The Dragons ( in blue ) in action. Jim Casey. Paul Cannella.
The Chicago Dragons' First XV lost 32-0 to UIC on Sept. 16 in the season-opening match for the area's only predominantly gay rugby club. ( However, the second team claimed its game by a score of 20-5, splitting with UIC. )
Despite the lopsided score of the first match, optimism abounds all around the pitch for this third-year team. The Dragons, for instance, had 28 people at an early September practice. A year ago, they only had about half that number who were ready to play.
'Our numbers have doubled,' said Jim Casey of Oak Park, who serves as the team's president and plays prop. 'We have an organizational structure that is sound, ready to move forward and [ eager ] to build a lasting organization.'
The Dragons feature Mark Byrne, who plays eight man and was the MVP of the 2005-'06 season; Roberto Garcia, a hooker, who was the Rookie of the Year; and Elliot Massuda, a flanker who was named Man of the Match for the UIC match. ( A rugby team has 15 players—eight forwards, numbered from 1 to 8; and seven backs, numbered from 9 to 15. Number eight is the only position that does not have a specific name and is simply called 'eight man' or 'number eight.' )
The team's growth also is partially due to new board members such as Brad Tyson, who is in charge of recruiting. The Dragons marched this summer in the annual Gay Pride Parade and set up an informational booth at Market Days. At both events, the team garnered numerous potential players, Casey said.
The Dragons had 23 rookies at a Rugby 101 seminar in August, and kept about 15 of them.
Dante Moreno, who plays inside center on the pitch, is the club's vice president of social activities—a role that certainly carries weight for a crew that isn't afraid to, oh, drink a cold one.
Andrew York plays fly half and is the backs captain, and he's helped lead the team in the right direction, literally. 'There's a tendency, especially among younger or new players, to get the ball and try to run toward the sidelines,' Casey said. 'But that ultimately messes up the structure of the game. Andrew has led an effort to take that ball forward and, by doing that, our line has been much more efficient.'
The Dragons are coached by Anneliese Gallagher, who this season has developed a team playbook. 'Yes, there are actual plays buried in what seems to be chaos on the field,' said Casey, who is a marketing manager for a telecommunications equipment manufacturer.
'The overall intensity and aggression of the team has really improved,' she added. 'There were a lot of new players this spring, and many of them were not afraid to take a hit or make a tackle. That's something that you cannot really teach a person to do. That's a compliment to their ability and their willingness to learn this sport.'
The Dragons have five matches this fall, including Oct. 21 at Lake County.
Also, the Dragons will travel to Nashville on Nov. 11 for a match.
See www.chicagodragons.org .