1st Annual Vampire 7’s Sand Rugby Tourney Aug. 10 on Flora-Bama Beach
By Fran Thompson
Rugby is most definitely a social sport. Opponents line up and shake hands after every match before convening to a location of the home team’s choosing for a party and a few adult beverages.
The Flora-Bama is, in addition to live music, also all about social intercourse and adult beverages.
So holding the 1st Annual Vampire 7’s Sand Rugby Tournament on the Flora-Bama Beach is a perfect fit. The Aug. 10 tourney will include four teams playing round-robin matches beginning at 10 a.m.
Also a fundraiser for the Leukemia Society, the tourney will include a blood drive (thus, the name). Each team of 12 players and most of the teams’ followers will donate blood following their last game.
“Yes. It is barefoot beach rugby behind the Flora-Bama. What’s not to like about that,’’ said tourney director Dale Wood.
Dale Wood organized the tourney with help from his twin brother, Dean Wood, to honor Alex Sharland, president of the Deep South Rugby Referees Assn. and a good friend. They said it was their way of honoring a refereeing mentor.
Sharland, who is currently going through treatments for leukemia, is also recovering from heart surgery and prostate cancer.
His treatments are ongoing. Yet he still referees rugby on the weekends. He returned to work as a college professor this spring after taking just one semester off. “I am doing OK – all things considered. Every day above the grass is a good day,’’ he said with a laugh.
“I’m not in pain of any sort. I ran this morning and I refereed three games last Saturday. There are people that have it a lot worse than me,’’ he added.
“People say I have a good attitude. But there is no use to get overwhelmed and start writing a last will and testament. I say ‘ride the wave while you can.’ I began treatment for leukemia a year ago and the next thing I know they were giving me 48 hours to live.’’
Certainly, the fact that Sharland is in top physical shape is helping him through some very aggressive treatment
“They said it was touch and go and I obviously touched, because I didn’t go,’’ he said.
“My friends held a blood drive for me at the Flora-Bama when I was going through my (throat) cancer treatment,’’ Dale Wood said. “I went to see Alex in the hospital and he was looking very, very ill. I thought, ‘I need to do something for my friend.’ This is what I came up with.’’
Dale Wood said he wanted to recruit as many of his friends as possible to participate in the blood drive. Including a rugby tourney would obviously attract more players/blood donors. The tourney also presents an additional fundraising opportunity for sponsors to support the Leukemia Society.
“The more bodies we can get there, the more blood we can get donated and the better the result,’’ he said. “Alex has been a big help. He is all for it.’’
Sharland, 50, has been a force as an organizer, referee and Battleship Old Boy player since moving to Mobile from Ft. Lauderdale to take a job as a professor of marketing and international business at the University of South Alabama in 2008. He ran tourneys with as many as 50 teams while he was in Ft. Lauderdale. He said he is very much looking forward to refereeing games and setting brackets for this tourney.
Throughout the Deep South rugby fraternity, Dean and Dale Wood are known simply as The Twins. Both are confirmed rugby lifers. They do not live together now, but they did share space on White St. in Fairhope for more than 17 years.
Now 60, they started playing rugby in Hammond in 1978, after their biology professor at SLU said he would give them A’s if they joined the team.
“He was also the rugby coach,’’ Dean Wood said. “We were bad at first, but we developed.’’
The twins have played together in various cities in the Southeast over the past 40 years, including New Orleans, Jackson and Chattanooga, where they earned co-MVP awards. They still play some Old Boys rugby with Battleship and are certified to referee games, which they do most weekends.
“I went in for surgeries on my shoulder, elbow and bicep in the past year, and I was thinking that probably signaled the end,’’ Dean Wood said. “My main thing will be to referee down there, but I might jump into a game for three minutes just for kicks.’’
Battleship Rugby will send two teams. Gulfport and the Battleship Old Boys will also field sides.
The format will be based on Rugby 7’s, which debuted as a medal sport at the 2016 Summer Olympics (Fuji won the men’s and Austrialia the women’s gold medals). The round-robin matches will consist of two seven minute halves.
The Battleship Old Boys, known as The Silverbacks, will be led by captain Keg Roberts.
Another rugby lifer, Roberts started playing the sport while at Spring Hill College in 1974. He said his first experience with the game was playing in a 64 team Mardi Gras tourney in muddy conditions near the Hammond airport on a cold February weekend.
“We ran around in the muck, and it was awesome,’’ he said. “After going through something like that, you either run like hell the other way or you’re hooked for life. I’m glad to say I was hooked.’’
Roberts, who played on the Battleship 1992 National Division II Championship team, said The Silverbacks will have a strong rooting section and plenty of players to choose from.
“I don’t expect that we will be competitive, but the team is shaping up,’’ he said. “We will have about 25 guys there. I assume the field is going to be pretty small. Maybe if we can get in five man mauls, we might have a chance.’’
Regardless of the results on the field, Roberts is certain he and his fellow Old Boys will have a memorable day at the Flora-Bama.
“We are going to show up and donate blood, hang around and drink bushwhackers. and support Alex,’’ he said. “That’s really what this is about, being with some good friends.’’
Sharland will return from presenting a paper in Trinidad late on the evening before the tourney, grab a few hours of sleep in Mobile and head along the coast to the Flora-Bama on his motorcycle in the morning.
“I am just going to carry on,’’ he said. “There is not point letting it get on top of you.
“The fact that we are even having this tourney is due to Dale’s diligence,’’ he added. “Between sponsorships and entry fees, he is raising a lot of money.’’
Sharland will be presented a lifetime achievement award from the Battleship Rugby Club during the tourney.
Dale Wood was honored with that award 10 years ago for continuing to give back to the sport he loves following his own bout with cancer.
‘“Give Blood. Play Rugby’ is our slogan,’’ he said. “This is a social event. That is our mind set going in. We want everybody to come and give blood if they can, whether they are rugby players on not.’’
Pictured: (L to R) identical twins Dean and Dale Wood are 40 year rugby lifers. They still travel to referee games or tournaments most weekends.