Nationals-bound ruggers keep first things first

by Moira Cullings
moira.cullings@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For Overland Park’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School rugby coach Tim Kluempers, the moment his team won the Kansas state championship was made even sweeter by what it did next.

On May 14, just one week after the big win and when they could have been training for nationals, his team members spent their Saturday landscaping the grounds around Holy Name Church in Kansas City, Kansas.

“They could have said, ‘Hey, we won our state championship, we’re getting ready for nationals,’” said Father Andrew Strobl, pastor at Holy Name. “But they were super supportive, and their coach was incredibly supportive as well.”

Father Strobl is a former chaplain of Aquinas and saw several of these players throughout their high school careers, making this service project even more unique.

“He really had a big impact on these kids’ lives because he’s just such a good, vibrant priest,” said Rosco Halsey, whose son Josh is one of two team captains.

“This was a great thing for these boys because they really feel like they had a great bit of gratitude for all Father Andrew had done for them,” he added.

Not only did the team show up ready to help Father Strobl, but they were eager to go above and beyond to beautify the parish area as much as possible.

Their work included trimming trees, cutting the lawn, laying mulch, planting flowers, adding rock beds, pulling vines and repairing basketball goals.

“It is part of Saints rugby to give back to the community,” said recent Aquinas graduate Camren Duff. “It is a bonding activity and just part of what we do.”

For team captain and recent graduate Josh Halsey, completing a project like this before the national tournament was incredibly meaningful.

“Although some of the boys may have been a little beat up and tired, we all came out and did a great thing for the community,” he said.

“We all enjoyed doing it,” he added. “And whenever this team gets the opportunity to help someone in need, we do our best to get done what needs to be done.”

Kluempers, who started Aquinas’ rugby team 10 years ago, is not only proud of his team’s accomplishment on the field, but out in the world as well.

“It’s very rewarding when you see the boys grow,” he said. “We’re teaching them rugby, but ultimately we’re trying to teach them to be good young men and understand giving back and what it takes to be a good citizen.”

Kluempers has made volunteer work a focal point of the rugby program, organizing a variety of projects for the boys each fall and spring.

Holy Name principal Amanda Vega-Mavec, for one, was glad of it.

“[My] students definitely noticed it and were grateful that the rugby team took the time out of their weekend to come do this for us,” she said.

“When I asked some of the students how they felt, one said it made her feel happy to see it all and know that another group did it for them,” she continued.

“It is a great feeling to know that the students in our archdiocese are always so willing to give back,” she added.

The rugby team, energized by their work at Holy Name, traveled to the national tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 19-20, where they placed fifth in the country.

Father Strobl is proud of the athletes’ accomplishments both on and off the field.

“They don’t just talk about doing the right thing,” he said. “They do it.”

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