Local Youth & young adult

St. Thomas Aquinas rugger coaches both on and off the field

From left, Jake Ernsting, Catherine Kluempers, head coach Tim Kluempers and McClain Schieltz get down and dirty as they work to beautify the grounds of St. Mary-St. Anthony. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

by Allen Ohlhaut
Special to The Leaven

OVERLAND PARK — It was nearly go time for the St. Thomas Aquinas High School men’s rugby team here.

With rugby nationals fast approaching, they’d been hitting practices hard, perfecting their strategy and reinforcing their team chemistry.

Yet even with so much on the line for their season, they hadn’t lost their focus on the bigger picture.

That’s why they spent the morning of May 18 doing what has become a hallmark of their club for nearly two decades: giving back to the community.

Or as Rosco Halsey puts it, “Providing a bunch of bulky boys who enjoy physical labor.”

This spring, that took the form of re-shaping the landscaping outside St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish in the heart of downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

Halsey, whose son played previously for the STA Saints Rugby, said the final results will be amazing.

“We’ve moved in a massive flowerpot, we’re going to do tree-trimming, mulching, edging, add some new trees, plant flowers,” he said. “They have a brand-new shrine coming in, and we’re gonna enhance that shrine with some new flowers. It’s going to look really nice.”

St. Thomas Aquinas rugby players (from left) Keegan Moyer, Charlie Bogan, Gavin Middendorf, Ben Mullen, Jozef Best and Fred Maxwell load a wheelbarrow full of mulch as they prepare to re-shape the landscaping outside St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish, in the heart of downtown Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Halsey first became involved with the rugby team when his son played seven years ago. During that time, both he and his son grew to admire the club’s founder and coach, Tim Kluempers, a veteran of the USA Rugby team.

“[Tim] likes to win, but at the same time, he leaves his players with a perspective of life which they don’t get from many coaches,” said Halsey.

Kluempers, said Halsey, has the ability to get the most out of his players on the field, in their personal lives and in their shared Catholic faith.

“These kids travel all over the country, but if they have a Sunday game, they dress up and they show up to Mass beforehand,” said Halsey. “[Tim] keeps the faith at the top of the priority list, and he coaches these kids beyond what happens out there on the field. That’s why so many parents — like me — stay involved with him even after our kids leave, which is a great thing.

“If a guy changes your kid’s life, you don’t forget that.”

Founded by Kluempers in 2007, STA Saints Rugby has won 14 of the last 15 Kansas State Rugby Championship titles, and in 2022 finished 4th in the nation out of 2,500 clubs.

Members of the St. Thomas Aquinas High School rugby team beautify the grounds of St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

The player captains, Owen Charlton and Max Doerfler, are proud of what they’ve accomplished this season, as they’ve notched several dominating wins against top-tier teams.

“Our chemistry is great — just in terms of on-field play, trusting our teammates, trusting the guys next to us,” says Charlton, a senior who plays the center position.

Doerfler agrees.

“Everyone’s bought in this year,” he said. “There’s a huge sense of teamwork and identity.”

But they know there’s still work to do. And they’re determined to make their coach and teammates proud at Nationals. (The STA team finished 7th there this year.)

“Coach is one of the best people we know; he’s a huge role model for us,” said Doerfler. “As a rugby coach, he’s one of the best, and as a person he teaches us so much. That’s part of why we’re doing this project, he wants us putting the same amount of work into service as we do into rugby.”

For his part, Kluempers is full of praise for his young captains — and all of his players.

“Owen and Max are such great young men. They have their teammates’ respect and high rugby IQs. Our goal this year was to make our teammates look better. It’s about the team, and these guys all really bought into it.”

“It’s fun to interact with the boys off the field,” added Kluempers, as he paused in his bush-planting efforts to brush some dirt off his hands. “I like to step in and dig with them. That way, they know that we’re here helping each other, from the top to the bottom.”

Likewise, as the team made its final preparations for the trip to Nationals, the ruggers left the Catholic community at St. Mary-St. Anthony a little better than they found it — from the top to the bottom.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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