“We are the fastest rising team of division I,” said Tom Peroulas, public affairs spokesman for the Condors Rugby Club of Chicago, which plays at Rockne Stadium in Austin.
Founded in 1979, the Condors dominated Division II play from 1997 to 2003, recently ascending to Division I. After only their second year in Div. I, the Condors qualified for national playoffs. Peroulas said no other team in Midwest Division I history has risen faster than the Condors.
The organization is also proud of its management and talented staff.
“We are trying to professionalize the operations of the club, more like a business and less like a social group; and we’ve been very successful in that … now we have one of the strongest coaching staffs in the Midwest,” said Ian Wagreich, president of the Condors Rugby Club.
But besides the sophisticated management and athletic talent on the field, the Condors never forget the essence of rugby–camaraderie among the team members and a positive spirit of competition
“On the field, it’s pretty competitive, but afterwards, there would be a party, and we will hang out with the other team and have a good time,” Peroulas said. “But the main thing is the spirit…we maintain our spirit, even when we are losing.”
While high-caliber athletes play for the Condors, they also have a B-team and a C-team that welcomes less experienced players. And for players who want to enjoy an occasional social game, the club has “Frogs,” mostly former athletes who have moved on in their professional lives.
The numerous teams offered by the club naturally attract players of varying age, experience, profession and even nationality.
“We are very international and pride ourselves in the diversity of the members,” Peroulas said. “There are players from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ukraine, Romania, England, Argentina, Japan and Pacific islands like New Zealand.”
Currently, the club relies on its website, newsletters and the members to make itself known in Chicago. This is their first season playing at Rockne Stadium at Roosevelt Road and Central Avenue. However, Peroulas said the club is going to be registered as an official non-profit organization very soon.
“Once we are registered and have some grant money, we plan to advertise within the community,” Peroulas said.
While the club is growing fast, Peroulas mentions three challenges that lie ahead.
First, the club needs to recognize the fact that top American athletes prefer other mainstream sports such as football or basketball and focus its recruitment among players who aren’t planning to turn professional.
Second, the club will try to introduce rugby as an enjoyable sport to a larger number of younger players by starting youth programs in Austin, Oak Park and other local areas.
“American rugby players in general are considered physically gifted but lacking finesse,” Peroulas said. “That is because in the States, people start rugby very late, usually after college.”
Third, to bolster its publicity, the club will establish a board of directors responsible for local networking and working with local media.
The club also serves an important role in communities like Oak Park where the demographics are diverse: “We bring back a lot for the community as well. Through the sport, we are able to break down social barriers and bring people together,” Peroulas said.
An indication of the club’s progress in the community is the signing of an agreement with Rockne Stadium to host home games. Rockne Stadium, property of the Chicago Public Schools, was the venue for a USA vs. Japan international match in the 1990s.
Wagreich said it is an exciting time of expansion and change for the Westside Condors Rugby Club. However, he asserted, one thing will never change: the spirit of the sport.
“On the field, it’s tackle and competition, but after the field, there’s the great spirit of camaraderie and everyone’s a brother in rugby,” he said.