Meet this season’s underdogs.
The Washington Scandals Rugby Football Club hasn’t won a match all season, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from its players’ smiling faces and seemingly boundless enthusiasm. You’ll often catch them at local watering holes, approaching people at Bear Happy Hour to ask them if they’ve considered playing; filling up the corner couches near the entrance of the Green Lantern, their host bar, as they joke and tease each other; and peddling jello shots and whipped cream to patrons while shirtless to help raise money for the team. They’re friendly, outgoing, and on a mission to increase the size of their roster.
Washington Scandals Rugby at The Green Lantern – Photography by Julian Vankim
Gus Elfving, president of the Scandals, says the team was started a couple of years ago by a few members who were dissatisfied with the options available to potential rugby players. Unlike their Division III counterparts, the Washington Renegades, the Scandals, who compete in Division IV, were organized with the intent of not just being a “gay-inclusive” team, but a predominantly LGBT rugby team that would be welcoming and less intimidating to newcomers.
The Scandals are not yet an officially recognized union, but hope to be one day. For now, the team plays against rugby clubs from other cities, some of which are predominantly straight, and others that fall under the umbrella of the International Gay Rugby Association and Board, or IGRAB, and are predominantly gay. The team recently returned from an IGRAB tournament in Atlanta, where Elfving scored his first try, or the rugby equivalent of a touchdown.
“We play rugby, we take it seriously, but most of our players have never played before,” Elfving says of the team’s competitiveness. “Some of our players are out of shape when they start, and it’s more of a club-level team, rather than a premier team.”
“I had played rugby before, for two years,” says rugger J.P. Castilla, who was first introduced to the Scandals at Capital Pride 2012, when the team was just being founded. “But I had never been involved with the LGBT community before.”
James McCann, another Scandal player, says he first encountered the team during a “meet-and-greet” at Cobalt. After getting to know some of the players, he woke up the next morning and went to a boot camp/practice known as Rugby 101.
“It was a lot of learn-by-doing,” McCann says of his experience.
Elfving says the Scandals host about three Rugby 101s a year, which are recruitment events open to the public that are intended to introduce newcomers to the rules of the sport. Most of the time, new players can learn the basics just by showing up to the team’s Monday or Wednesday night practices, though Elfving acknowledges that it can be intimidating for some people to walk onto a pitch with a team filled with individuals that you may not know.
“I personally joined the club because I had gone through years and years of gym memberships in which I was never motivated to go,” Elfving recalls. “I went to the Team DC Sportsfest looking for something to do where I could get exercise doing something I enjoy. I talked to the water polo people, to the triathletes, all these sports. But rugby appealed to me because they were just welcoming to me. I went to a couple of practices, and it is a sport that I grew to love.”
Asked what the biggest misconception about rugby is, the Scandals say the perception that ruggers have to be huge or in perfect physical shape.
“There’s a huge diversity on the team, and a place for everybody,” McCann says. “All skill levels, all experiences, all body types.”
“It’s very inclusive,” adds Elfving. “Anyone can play rugby.”
Most importantly, after each game, the Scandals players celebrate what they call the “third half,” meaning the post-game party together. For many of the players, the socialization part of belonging to the team is equally important as the plays made on the pitch. Elfving says there is definitely a sense of brotherhood shared between the various ruggers.
“A lot of the people on the team have moved here and joined the team, because it’s very hard to make social inroads in a city with such a transient population,” he says. “So people join the club, and they find a really good group of people who care, and become your family, in a way.”
Elfving also says the “family” extends to partners of players, as well as former players who can no longer participate due to time constraints, but who still socialize with the ruggers. One current player and a member of the team from the previous season even managed to find a love connection — they’re getting married later this month.
“I went to a social activity after our first scrimmage,” recalls McCann. “By the end of that night, I had forged a really intense connection with the people on the team. Within the next nine months, they then became some of the closest friends I have ever had.”
The Washington Scandals Rugby Football Club practices on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Garrison Elementary School at 12th and S Streets NW. For more information, visit dcscandals.org.