Have you heard of the Salt River Defenders rugby team? Some might have learned about the team through word of mouth, past Tribal Council meetings, or perhaps through social networking. Regardless of where you heard it, this is the first rugby team led by a tribal member here within the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and also in Arizona, if you want to get specific.
Would you like to be part of history? Or do you know of someone who might fit right in?
“We’re more than just a sport; we’re a family [and] a camaraderie,” said Defenders founder and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Klinton Kauakahi. Kauakahi was introduced to rugby by the late Frank Molina, who was a battalion chief and fire marshal for the Salt River Fire Department.
“He introduced me to rugby, and ever since then I [have] loved to play,” Kauakahi said. “I believe those who play this sport will also see the [healthy] benefits of playing. Playing rugby helps me to maintain my diabetes. I believe it can help others with their health needs as well.” Kauakahi has been playing rugby now for 21 years and counting.
Joining Kauakahi in founding the team are Community member Stephen Rhoades, Mike Jones and Sione Mapakaitolo. They decided to start the Salt River Defenders rugby team in hopes of teaching this sport to anyone willing to learn. Their future plans include expanding with a women’s team and a youth team.
“Right now, we’re open to any men willing to learn and have fun. This [sport] can help in more ways than one. [We] provide fellowship, structure, physical/healthy gains and fun; we’re male role models; we provide a place to channel your energy; we’re a team; we’re very family oriented; and most importantly, we’re a family,” said Kauakahi.
What is rugby? Rugby is a sport that is a form of football. The Salt River Defenders team is classified under the Arizona Rugby Union, which is one type of rugby. This means 15 men are allowed on the field at one time: eight forwards (who maintain or obtain possession of the ball) and seven backs (responsible for moving the ball forward and scoring). Rugby is a full-contact sport that includes tackling and little to no protective gear. The object of the game is to move the ball into your opponent’s designated territory. This game is broken into two 40-minute halves and a 15-minute break. Interested yet?
In case you didn’t know, the Salt River Defenders has some O’odham and Piipaash history tied into it. “A long time ago, our [O’odham and Piipaash] defenders were sent out to find settlers [in this current area]. They had to determine whether to help [the settlers] or [defend] the [O’odham and Piipaash] people. They took care of business; that’s where we get our name from. We take care of business [on the field], and we also welcome anyone willing to learn,” said Kauakahi.
The team has high hopes of recruiting more men from the Community and surrounding areas to play. Current players range in age from 17 to 63 and weigh 150 lbs. to 300-plus lbs. “We have a place for everyone,” said Kauakahi.
The Salt River Defenders have played a couple games this season; a scrimmage against the Scottsdale Blues in December, as well as, Arizona State University rugby team on January 17. Their first game of the season took place on January 31 against Prescott. The team’s motto isn’t winning, it’s having fun and getting healthy, but of course winning is always a bonus, right? The players strive to work past their own physical limitations and hope someday to make it to regional and national rugby playoffs.
“I’m not going to lie—this is a hard sport, but don’t be afraid to come out and try. You never know. Rugby is a universal sport; almost anywhere you go, you will find someone who plays rugby. Come to one of our games or practices and just check it out. Come see what we’re about,” said Kauakahi.
The Salt River Defenders practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Salt River High School practice field. For more information, contact Klinton Kauakahi or Kasey Kauakahi at firstname.lastname@example.org or find Salt River Defenders Rugby on Facebook at www.facebook.com/saltriverrugbyclub.