Having been around since 1978, the Huntsville Rugby Club still maintains its tradition of winning, developing lifelong friendships, and having a lot of fun while competing as part of the True South Division.
Founded by the late Jerry Willis, a retired veteran, missile instructor and youth sports director for Redstone Arsenal, the club continues to recruit members from all over. This includes current president Gregg Dellert, a retired Army officer and former rugby player, who wanted to continue playing and being involved in the sport.
Dellert, 48, a native of Ithaca, New York, was elected president in January. He became a board member two years ago after he stopped playing. The Harvest resident, who retired from the Army in 2013 as a lieutenant colonel after 20 years, played rugby about eight years. He works for a defense contractor.
“Rugby is a combination of skills and abilities you gain from multiple sports,” he said. “So very few of the guys or people who play actually grew up playing rugby. They grew up playing football, soccer, lacrosse or basketball. But now that they’ve gotten older or out of college, it’s a good sport where they can come in and have a lot of fun and apply their skills and abilities and pick up on the sport. And join the guys that have been playing for a while.”
The players range from age 20 to over 50. There is also a wide range of abilities; and there is a position on the field for everyone regardless of their size.
“Literally anyone can play if you have the desire and want to be in a physical sport, get dirty and be in a mish-mash with a bunch of people,” Dellert said.
His daughter, Eliza Dellert, 22, an engineer at Redstone for an Army contractor, has joined the newly formed women’s team.
“It just gets in your blood,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. A lot of camaraderie comes with it.”
Until this year, the club only fielded an all-male team until launching a women’s team in January. Simone Bontly, who coaches the women’s team, said she believes the Huntsville/Madison area is the perfect place for women’s rugby.
Bontly, a Huntsville native, moved back to her hometown in July from Columbia, South Carolina. Her husband, Aaron “Stumpy” Bontly, plays on the men’s team. He medically retired from the Army in 2007 as a sergeant.
The women’s team calls themselves the “Wild Hens” because the men’s team was once known as the “Wild Turkeys.”
“Right now on our roster we have I think a solid 15 (players),” Bontly said of her women’s team. “I would love as many as I possibly can get.”
Bontly, 41, has played rugby for 16 years and has been coaching for 11. She started playing softball and basketball when she was 5 and played all the way through Huntsville High where she graduated in 1996.
“I think the main thing that women get out of it is a sense of empowerment,” she said of rugby. “It helps us build our confidence of who we are as women. It does not matter what size you are, it does not matter what age you are. It just gives us a sense of self-confidence and camaraderie. We’re still competitors. We crave that sense of energy. I think that in itself is why women compete in rugby. It gives us a kind of release. We have a lot of moms. We have young professionals. We range from (age) 18 to 50-something.”
If interested in playing, women can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alexis Lynd, a California native who recently moved to Huntsville, also thinks this area is good for women’s rugby. After watching her husband play here, she decided to start the women’s team and was the first to sign up.
“Everyone is welcome to the team and no experience is necessary,” Lynd said. “Players learn and are coached at all levels and come from all backgrounds, professions, fitness levels, and range from early 20s to over 50 years of age.”
According to Bontly, their focus is on providing a competitive yet social environment for those who previously played rugby, for those that are new, and for everyone in between.
The club is a strong believer in providing a welcoming environment for all through constructive coaching for all skill levels, and through hosting team activities and social events, including monthly get-togethers, picnics, award ceremonies and recognition.
As with most sports-related activities, the coronavirus pandemic has caused the club to suspend games and practices through mid-April. But both Dellert and Bontly remain optimistic with plans to resume future practices and competitive playing.
Bontly and Dellert encourage anyone interested to contact them as they are looking to grow their teams. Dellert said the men’s team has about 25 players and seeks more.