Aggressive compassion: assessing rugball's dirty reputation–Web version

Two garbage cans, a soccer ball, and a group of compassionate peacemakers are what make up the game of rugball, as played at Goshen College. But don’t let the players’ religious beliefs fool you; these peacemakers play rough.

It’s 3 p.m. on a Sunday and senior David Horst dashes past an opponent with two others in close pursuit. He cuts left avoiding yet another defender. His feet move faster and faster as he builds up speed. Stiff arm; one less adversary. He focuses on the garbage can, sprinting. Ten yards. Five yards. Three. Two. He leaps with both hands over his head, high above the two foes protecting their goal. He slams the ball into the bottom of the can, scoring a point for his team.

The goal of the game is simple: get the ball to hit the bottom of opposing team’s garbage can to earn a point; the first team to 10 points wins. Achieving the goal, however, is not so easy. Players must fight their way through the relentless defenders blocking their path. The only rules: no biting, no hair pulling, no “crotch shots” and no moving the goal. Aside from that, anything goes.

Looking beyond the game’s rugged exterior, however, you can see the compassion in the players. Goshen College’s core values drive students to be compassionate peacemakers, passionate learners, servant leaders and global citizens.

As peacemakers, they play rugball to have fun, and they want everyone else to have a good experience with the game. If someone gets hurt, the play halts and the injured player is tended to. Regardless of teams, players share a general companionship with their fellow students. Goshen College is a community, so players are friendly toward one another and won’t bicker or fight over the game. rugball players respect a sort of moral code— nicknamed the “don’t-be-a-jerk rule”—by being considerate if someone gets injured and not intentionally hurting others.

Horst and other players welcome anyone to play the game— male and female, students and staff. Though it is predominantly played by male students, there will often be several female players, and on occasion, Jake Shipe, a resident director at the college, can be seen on the rugball field.

Even with the concern for others on the field, rugball is by no means a harmless game.

Players are constantly being tackled, grappled and thrown about by others, but despite being compassionate peacemakers, many are also aggressive competitors. The game is rough. People get hurt. Injuries range from twisted ankles to broken arms, separated shoulders or concussions.

Chase Snyder, a senior, is still recovering after breaking his foot last fall playing rugball. However, the risk of injury is largely relative to the amount of participation. David Horst, a senior, described the chance of injury.

“Really it’s not very often that anybody gets hurt,” he said, “and it’s up to each person how much they want to be involved, how aggressive [they] want to be. You’re more likely to [get] hurt if you see the biggest person on the field and you go straight for them.”

Bill Born, vice president of Student Life, said that in 2003, as rugball was just beginning to be played at Goshen College, two students were sent to the emergency room at Goshen General Hospital with broken bones, causing parents began to complain to the administration. The parents were told that students are free to choose their afternoon activities, and it is somewhat the parents’ responsibility to talk to their kids about their choices. The college took a “hands-off” approach to managing rugball on campus, meaning that they allow its existence but don’t endorse it.

“There are worse things students could be doing,” said Born, “and it is representative of creativity and community life. Sure it’s violent, [but] I chuckle sometimes personally at the fact that in our peacemaking ethos we still find ways to express aggression, because we are human. And it’s O.K. to just own it.”

On his office wall, Born has a display of photos of people participating in campus activities, all surrounding a diagram of the college’s core values. One of the photos is of Marcos Stoltzfus, the creator of rugball, being tackled while holding a soccer ball.

According to Horst and a Goshen rugball Web page, Marcos Stoltzfus invented rugball in Bellefontaine, Ohio, during a church lock-in with his Mennonite Youth Fellowship group. The group first played on a rug in the church basement, but due to excessive rug burns, the subsequent games were played outside on grass. Despite the location change, the name “rugball” stuck.

In fall of 2003, Stoltzfus brought the game to Goshen College where it is played every Sunday at 3 p.m. Even after Stoltzfus and the original Goshen rugballers graduated and left the school, the tradition carries on.

Although Goshen College may seem to be an unlikely host of the game, it has shown to be a perfect place for rugball to exist. What better place than a peacemaking school for such a brutal game to be played without leading to a heated confrontation?

“In all the years I have never heard of there being a burst of anger outside of the lines,” said Born.

The reason people are still playing the game after five years is that rugball is a fun way to get exercise and let out some aggression, said Alana Kenagy, a junior. Goshen students endure the Sunday afternoon cuts, bruises, and torn shirts in order to play the game, and they encourage all willing to try it; that is until they break a bone.

Haven Schrock
Written by Haven Schrock

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