Airmen train to win back rugby championship

  • Published
  • By Story by Senior Airman Bobbie Reynolds and Senior Airman Michelle Alvarez-Rae
  • 140th Wing Public Affairs
Rugby and the Air Force have a lot in common. Both Rugby and the Air Force consist of teams made up of a diverse group of people, who are passionate about teamwork, camaraderie and strength. Although both cohesively work together to accomplish a different mission, they both share a common goal, winning.

Senior Airman Benjamin A. Haapapuro, a space systems maintainer, and Senior Airman Theodore J. Szarzynski, a space warning specialist, both assigned to the 233rd Space Group in Greeley Colorado, along with their Air Force Rugby team, compete in the annual Serevi Rugby 7's tournament for a $10K prize and a chance to take back the Armed Forces Championship.

Through experience, training and support, Haapapuro and Szarzynski combine their passion for rugby and the Air Force, and take it out onto the field.

"I wanted to give back," said Haapapuro.

Haapapuro said he joined the Air Force to challenge himself both physically and mentally. He added that after playing rugby for over 15 years, he had an opportunity he never thought existed, playing rugby for the Air Force. He said it gave him a chance to represent the uniform on base and on the field. 

Both Szarzynski, who played rugby for over nine years, and Haapapuro, train throughout the year by playing on club teams. Because the Air Force rugby team only meets a few times a year for tournaments, players are expected to stay fit and be ready to play at any time. A large difference in Air Force rugby and regular club rugby is how quickly the Air Force can bond cohesively in a short amount of time.

"It's really cool to see how fast we can actually get our practice running cohesively, as a unit, before we get out on the field," said Szarzynski. "It's pretty impressive how fast the turnaround time is, since we don't really play together regularly."

Because of the limited amount of time players have to practice for their military teams, unit support for sports is extremely important for the player. It not only builds morale for the players but can strengthen the bond unit members have with each other. Because of the positive impact rugby has on its military members, both physically and mentally, units are becoming more and more supportive, not only on base, but they are supporting their Airmen by coming to the games as well.

Szarzynski and Haapapuro said unit support has been getting better. The unit is helping to ensure Airmen are medically and financially covered while players represent the Air Force during rugby tournaments. The unit leadership is making efforts to attend games for morale and support and, although there are a few things still on the table, the Colorado Air Guard is working on making military sports a choice worth making.

The rugby tournament is scheduled Aug. 14-16 at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado. Seventeen teams will compete for the championship, to include all branches of the military as well as teams from around the world. They will compete in a fast-paced game of seven vs. seven, a big difference from the traditional 15 vs. 15 players.

Szarzynski said leadership is hoping to have a large number of Airmen attend the tournament to support the team.

"They just want good support for the Air Force team while we're in town and we have the capability," said Szarzynski.

The tournament is highly competitive, with some of the best teams fighting for the championship. If the Air Force wins, it would be the first time in four years they would regain the title.

"It's a really tough competition," said Haapapuro. "You got the best teams in the U.S. and you got teams from other countries."

"The Royal Air Force comes from the United Kingdom," said Szarzynski. "There is a team from Trinidad and Tobego, Spain, and a couple other nations. It's a pretty big tournament. It's pretty fun."

Szarzynski and Haapapuro have experience and are well-trained to win. This is the same attribute that all Airmen are trained with, so with support from their unit and a little bit of luck, the Air Force could take home the championship again.

For more information regarding the Serevi Rugby 7 tournament, please click on the link below:

Pre-Scheduled Air Force Games:

Friday, August 14:
1:22 pm - Air Force Vs Coast Guard
4:18 pm - Air Force Vs Marine Corps
7:14 pm - Air Force Vs. Navy

Saturday, August 15:
1:28 pm - Air Force Vs. Army

3:56 pm - Armed Forces Championship Match (#1 Vs. #2)