FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN NAMED WOMEN'S HEAD COACH: TÂNIA SANTOS

In South Africa, rugby is a religion in which Tânia Santos has been devoutly and enthusiastically a part of all her life. As a young child, she began playing touch & coed rugby in her neighborhood as she dreamed and learned about the sport of rugby. She intently watched practices at Rand Park High School in Randburg, South Africa where in those archaic days, rugby was reserved for boys only! Coach Tânia then played at club level for Witwatersrand University RFC mastering the 8-Woman position for four years while completing medical school. She enthusiastically participated in any and every forward position depending on what her collective team needed and determined to - one day - bring rugby to girls of every age and size. As a Physical Therapist for numerous rugby teams all over the globe, Coach Tânia has been involved with Tukkies University in

Pretoria, South Africa, the provincial Transvaal Lions in Johannesburg, South Africa and national rugby teams including the South African Springboks and multiple Samoan Teams during the World Cup Rugby Tournament. She moved to the USA in 1996 and then to Traverse City, Michigan in 2005 where she continued in assisting with physical therapy during matches for the Grand Traverse Rugby Club and rehabbing the Traverse Bay Blues men’s team, high school girls team, and boys team. She then strapped on her cleats once again and started actively playing and coaching the high school girls and women’s team in 2019. She even started a middle school girls team in which players will eventually move up to play on the high school girl's team and then the women's team. She fiercely believes in the equality of participation and inclusion of women in sports at all levels insistent on equal opportunities for success in college and professional arenas. Coach Tânia passionately believes in the strength of education of youth in sports especially rugby for girls. Simply put rugby builds strong confident women. The self-fulfillment and opportunities rugby has given her far outweighs any injury or setback she has ever encountered. It has importantly given her a close-knit family away from home.

Blues Player One of Union's Top Scorers

With USA Rugby ending the remainder of the 2019-2020 rugby season, due Covid-19, the Michigan Rugby Union released its end of season Division III statistics. Traverse Bay Blues player Chris Stothard, playing in his second year with the Blues, figured prominently in all scoring categories. “I think we had a pretty solid season but there’s definitely some areas for us to work on and improve as a team. Throughout the season the boys put in a lot of effort and good work so they deserve a lot of the credit.” Stothard amassed 58 points on the season, enough for fourth place in total points scored. “It’s almost strange to see the individual stats from the season because ultimately a lot of it comes down to the team’s hard work. I was just fortunate to get on the end of a couple of passes to dot it down in the try zone”, Stothard said. Stothard also posted numbers in the top ten in the union in three additional scoring categories, posting a ninth in tries scored, and added two more top 10 finishes off the boot, a ninth in conversions made, and a seventh in penalty kicks made. Blues coach Derek Braun said congratulated Stothard and had this to say,  “Chris brings a level of physicality and field vision that make him a great playmaker to have on the pitch, he is a player you can always count on to make solid decisions with the ball”, adding “He makes key coaching decisions easier with his kicking ability”  Stothard closed our conversation stating that he was “Looking forward to a good run in the preseason and a successful campaign in the fall.”

Blues Men Promote New Head Coach

The Blues would like to congratulate new Blues Assistant Coach, Derek Braun, on his promotion to the head coaching position. Coach Braun came to the Blues from North Carolina in July of 2019. He is retired; and his wife, Lisa, is originally from the area. They chose to move to the Traverse City area to be closer to family, including their son, Noah, who had been accepted to the Engineering Department at Michigan State

University for Fall 2019. Knowing the move was coming, Coach Braun researched rugby in the Traverse City area and reached out via email to the club. After multiple email and phone conversations with long-time Blues player and

supporter, Tony Dell’Acqua, Coach Braun came to his first Blues practice in early July 2019. Coach Braun immediately demonstrated his commitment to the club by making the drive from Petoskey for every practice; bringing his son, a freshman fly-half at Michigan State, with him for the summer.

Coach Braun brings 7 years of rugby coaching experience to the Blues Head Coaching position, including 3 years as a Head Coach. He has coached High School Boys, Adult Women’s, and most recently was Head Coach at Division 2 Campbell University.  He also served as the Director of High School Club Rugby for North Carolina Youth Rugby Union, successfully implementing a multi-tiered system to encourage new club growth.

When asked about his first impressions of the club, Coach Braun responded, “The players embraced both me and the philosophy I brought with open arms.” He added “Coach Matt built a strong foundation within the team, that made it easy for us to add on to”. Coach Braun says the gameplan he is bringing in is very dynamic, using principles from high level college rugby and from international professional rugby. “It allows for multiple decision makers to control the flow of the defense and create overloads and mismatches on the offensive side; while playing a bend, but don’t break defensive style.”  The new scheme will impose a moderate learning curve for the Blues, but is well aligned with many of the team's existing strengths, and should ultimately provide for an exciting fall season filled with dominance over  ill-prepared opponents.

-written by Matt Goodell

 

Local Rugby Team Has Win-Win Proposition For Community

The Traverse City Blues Rugby Football Club was formed in 1973, and much like any organization has had its triumphs and shortcomings.  Also like many organizations, The Blues are being adversely affected by the Corona Virus pandemic in ways that were previously unimagined. Federal and State laws & orders are having a detrimental effect on the club's ability to interact with the community.  While the team is unable to gather for practice, putting a harsh damper on a Spring season originally scheduled to kick-off in  mere weeks; the restrictions also pose more grave threats for the club at large.  Chiefly the abilities to participate in community outreach, and recruit new players.  Members of The Blues hail from Leelanau to Petoskey, and take pride in taking part in local causes.  From volunteering as staff in festivals, to assisting the elderly with leaf and snow removal, The Blues care about their local environment.

 

While the rugby club is certainly not unique in facing challenges at this point in time, they have contrived a way to aid both their neighbors and themselves as an institution.  There is a good chance that while you are reading this article, there is a persistent pile of bottles and cans that while usually returnable for that modest deposit, is now just occupying an ever increasing amount of space in your home.

Therefore, the strong and thoughtful men of the Blues Rugby Club have elected to offer a service to the community at large, to accept your looming load of recyclable waste.  While details are still being finalised for dropoff locations, The Club desires to announce their plans to mutually benefit from removing your stagnant returnables.  The Traverse City Blues Rugby Club is a non-profit 501(C)(3) organization, and all accumulated currency from this service provided will serve to aid the club in procuring equipment and payment of league dues, not financially benefit any individual.

 

If you are interested in this opportunity to help a local group, as well as eliminate an ungainly tenant from your residence, please reach out for more details.  Follow the Blues' Facebook page,  https://www.facebook.com/groups/bluesrugby/ or contact tbbrfcmens@gmail.com for additional information.  

-written by Kyle Becker; edited by Matt Goodell

Traverse Bay Rugby Holds Annual Awards Banquet

    The Traverse Bay Blues Rugby Football Club recently honored past and present players for the 2019-2020 season banquet at The Elks Lodge, in Traverse City. With over 100 people in attendance, both the men’s and women’s sides had a lot to celebrate; not only on the field accomplishments, but also work in the community and spreading their sphere of influence for the sport of rugby. The Grand Traverse Rugby Club board members planned a night full of laughter, celebration, and fun. Board members include Bob Brick, Tony Dell’Acqua, Trina Girardin, Josh Benghauser, Tim Brick, Mike Amon, Tania Santos, Cornel Olivier, Paul Fitzsimons, and Matt Szatkiewicz. The GTRC board meets once a quarter to discuss upcoming events, fundraising, and the future for all of the teams who are part of the Grand Traverse Rugby Club.

The women’s side has been run by Coach Tania Santos for over two years now; she has not only spread the name of women’s rugby locally, but also started up a youth program. On top of that, Coach Tania is the athletic/medical trainer for the Blues and she had only great things to say about the women’s season. The team had two captains: Olivia Farkas of the forwards, and Trina Girardin of the backs. The women only had one home match in the fall, and hence did much travelling in their season. Thanks to the support of their board officers, the season could not have gone more smoothly. This year’s excitement was focused on the Three-Year Awards and the players who would be receiving their “veteran” jackets.

The 2020 banquet awards for the women are as follows: the President’s Cup Award (to the player who is participating at the highest level of their sport), the Spirit of Rugby Award (to the player or coach that helps sustain and improve a youth program, spreading the knowledge of rugby), the 16th Woman Award (to the player whose dedication and selflessness to the team shines above all), the Pillar and Post Award (to the player whose responsibilities help keep the team running smoothly)r, Most Valuable Back/Forward, and Rookie of the Year for Backs/Forwards. The President’s Cup went to Olivia Farkas, Spirit of Rugby to Glenn Hasenmyer, 16th Woman Award to Leticia Rocha, and the Pillar and Post Award to Trina Girardin.  Holly Wright earned Most Improved Player, Ashley Crawford won Rookie Back of the Year, and Sydney Allmayer earned the honor of Rookie Forward of the Year.

to grow the sport of rugby. This year’s recipient, Glenn Hasenmyer, is a former soldier in the United States Army; his ten years of service includes four years of playing for the US All-Army rugby team. Glenn made his mark with the women’s team as an assistant coach for Backs line, alongside Coach Tania.

     One player in particular shined the brightest this year, Olivia Farkas, winning both the awards for the President’s Cup and Most Valuable Forward. Olivia is a senior at Traverse City West High Schoo,l and stepped up in a huge way for the women; she impressively earned a scholarship to join two other Blues alumni at Davenport University this Fall. 

In addition to the Pillar and Post Award, Trina Girardin also was recognized as the MVP of the Backs. Trina has been a critical asset for the women’s team since its inception. The Spirit of Rugby Award is of huge symbolic importance since it represents someone’s efforts to

     After the women handed out their awards, the men’s team was given a turn to present an update on the club’s status and pass out their awards. The season ended with an effort just shy of the playoffs, yet there were multiple positive aspects to be gleaned by the team. A new coach arrived from North Carolina, aiding Coach Matt in numerous areas. Derek Braun brought many new ideas and strategies to the club, many stemming from his time coaching a D-2 college squad, and his experience & dedication are sure to have a significantly positive impact on the team.  Coinciding with Coach Derek’s addition to the team were several high caliber players, some new to the sport and some simply new to the area.The 2020 banquet awards for the men are as follows: The Most Valuable Player for Forwards/Backs,  Most Improved Player,  The Teamness Award, Blues Man Award,  Rookie of the Year, and Player of the Year.

The Most Valuable Forward honor went to Ryan Johnston, who in his first year with The Blues did things that not many people would be able to accomplish. He not only played the majority of a match with a broken foot but also opted out of other pressing obligations to fight alongside his brothers in a critical fixture. 

The MVP for the Backs was a simple choice as well, Chris “English” Stothard was a force to be reckoned with whether it was running all over the field, controlling gameflow & momentum, or converting crucial points with his boot. Without his leg, the team would have finished with a much less impressive record.  

Kellor Flees earned the award for Most Improved Player, displaying a unique ability to slot into a utility role for the team. Kellor played numerous positions in the pack, back line, and even stepped up to play Scrum Half when the team was without; he even showcased a few good stiff arms to complement his flashy running. 

The Teamness Award went to Theko Orenic, who put his body in harm’s way multiple times through the season, battled injury, and still found a way to make his impact felt in practice and on gameday.

Andrew Fildes earned the Blues Man Award. Another new addition to the Blues, in just a short time Fildes has stepped up for the team, filling vacancies and volunteering his time for the betterment of the club. 

The Rookie of the Year Award went to Carlos Mona. Carlos recently moved from Miami, Florida where he had played on a Division--II team.  His addition to the Blues had an immediate impact, using his experience to play several different positions throughout the season, and excel at each and every one of them.

The team had two captains: Mitch Hernandez for the backs and Jake Krause for the forwards. Both men displayed time and again the qualities of exemplary captainhood. Mitch in particular never missed a practice and demonstrated true leadership throughout the season, for this reason he took home the well deserved Player of the Year Award. There was one player who was heralded for a special honor, Andrew Smith. He not only measured and lined the field for every home match, but played a large role in securing our field and making it one of the finest pitches in the state of Michigan. Smith is a player with a huge heart for rugby and the Blues. He, along with his wife Sara and their children, have gone to great lengths to help the club in countless ways for several years and were recognized for their efforts in a way that went beyond a casual award.

     One happening of the evening cast a somber light on the celebratory affair; the official retirement of Matt Szatkiewwicz.  Known as “Coach Matt” for eight years, Matt went above and beyond what most would consider the regular scope of duties for a head coach. Aside from the standard activities associated with coaching (conducting drills, teaching the finer points of the sport, developing gameplans, and strategic in-match decisions), Matt selflessly helped players meet their dues & CIPP obligations. For away games, Coach Matt drove a van to and from the different venues so the players could enjoy rides back and prepare for matches on the way down; even playing in some of those matches when needed. He was a model coach who made innumerable contributions to the club, his efforts to sustain the Blues cannot be overstated. Matt ran practice and various team functions, all while holding his job as a respected and compassionate teacher during the day. He will be missed as a team instructor but now he gets to enjoy the view as a fan & supporter, without the stressors of being head coach. The torch was passed to Derek Braun in a very emotional speech by Matt, and rest assured, the future looks very bright for the men’s team indeed.

     All in all, the night was a huge success with players and coaches being honored and revered. The Blues men and women displayed an impressive balance of class and enjoyment; celebrated their impact in the community, having spread the name of rugby and educating the youth in an up-and-coming sport. Congratulations to all of the Blues banquet award winners and to those that put in the hard work to make this year’s banquet one for the books! We look forward to another great year of rugby with the help of our supporters and sponsors.  

 

-Written by Andrew Fildes & Trina Girardin; edited by Matthew Goodell-