Enter the 36 Chambers of Rugby in Iowa
Why taking a page from the Killa Bees may benefit the sport long term
Long before I could fully understand the lyrical genius of the Wu-Tang Clan, & long before I knew the intricacies of rugby, there was an event known as the pinnacle of Iowa’s rugby scene. The tournament still exists to this day but not like it used to. The event is known as All-Iowa, the beautiful scene of college and senior club rugby teams playing a multi-tiered tournament, sharing a numerous amount of stories, and creating stories that should not see the light of day. Every team in the state would show and a great time was had by all. Unfortunately, as the “sleeping giant” United States National Rugby team begins to awaken, according to worldwide pundits, the rugby scene in Iowa is taking a bit of a nap. This is where I believe we should look to the greatest hip-hop group of all time, The Wu-Tang Clan.
Even though the Wu-Tang Clan may be before my time, I believe their come up story is remarkable. My first taste of the Wu was while I was in middle school. One of the most controversial television shows at the time, and one of my personal favorites, The Dave Chappelle Show, would feature members of the Wu-Tang Clan to perform skits. There were countless mentions of the group throughout the show’s run. This created a curiosity of a “Who are these men and why are they so important?” I would download a song here and there, but never looked into their back story.
The first time I saw the cross over of the Wu-Tang Clan & rugby was upon meeting Eric Nichols & Jeremy Newman at the University of Northern Iowa. It was these two teammates of mine, on the University of Northern Iowa Men’s Rugby Football Club, where I learned all about the Wu. On extensive
road trips for away games, we would listen to their album Enter the 36 Chambers again and again. Not only would this get the blood pumping for our next match, but it was a history lesson in the making for me. These two explained to me that the Wu’s goal was simple, take over the rap game in it’s entirety.
It sounded like a tall task at the time, but as these two went on to explain, 20 years after the first album, the members of the Wu-Tang Clan accomplished their goal. After the first album, which peaked at #41 on the Billboard Chart in 1993 but later has been named the greatest hip-hop album of all time by Blender and About.com, the members split to different labels to try solo projects. The wild part about this happening? It was on purpose.
“We reinvented the way hip hop was structured, and what I mean is, you have a group signed to a label, yet the infrastructure of our deal was like anyone else's [...] We still could negotiate with any label we wanted, like Meth went with Def Jam, Rae stayed with Loud, Ghost went with Sony, GZA went with Geffen Records, feel me? [...] And all these labels still put "Razor Sharp Records" on the credits [...] Wu Tang was a financial movement. So what do you wanna diversify...? [...] Your assets?”
The list of music created, music produced, acting roles, directing roles, movie soundtracks, cartoons worked on, and rappers being influenced would go on for days. The RZA, one of the founding members, had this grand plan of having his group dip their hand in every asset they could touch. This allowed for them to use their creative influence while also making much more money than if they stayed as a group of nine. It was genius and revolutionary. One of the skits from the Chappelle Show introduced the world to Wu-Tang Financial, the fake company that would advise clients using the Wu-Tang logic to diversify. This also led to the creation of one of my favorite twitter accounts, @Wu_Tang_Finance. It’s been said that all of hip-hop has been either directly or indirectly influenced by the Wu-Tang Clan. Though from a different time and a different environment growing up, I am a huge fan of their work because they set their sights, stuck to their playbook, and conquored.
How does this relate to the growth of rugby in Iowa?
Over the last six years I have fallen in to the rabbit hole of rugby. The closest people in my life are due to some rugby type event. I started my career in my first year at the University of Northern Iowa. We were helped by many
members of the Bremer County Bucks men’s team from Waverly (a pipeline of UNI grads). When I student taught in Algona, I played with the Gopher College men’s team. I've seen the start up of many high school 7's programs in the state yet have seen the decline in men’s teams competing.
Enter the Wu-Tang. To take from The RZA, we need to reinvent the way rugby in Iowa is structured. I believe that it is up to the college and senior players to take the role of supportive coach/referee/trainer. I will say recently, this is something that is starting to pick up steam. Once these players hang up their boots, or even while they’re playing, help young aspiring players. The past two years I have coached at the University of Northern Iowa and the greatest sense of accomplishment I’ve had is seeing my current and former players not only help coach a team but even start their own high school team to give young players a chacne to learn the game we love.
A group of UNI players that I had the pleasure of coaching started a high school club at the Union/La Porte City High School. They go by the name of Wolfe Creek and are coached by former players DeAndre Moore, Reid Frana, and current player Conrad Bush. This Friday, at the Iowa High School 7's State Championship, Wolfe Creek has a chance to win a state title in their first year of competition. Five short weeks ago, none of those kids had ever seen a rugby ball in person. Today we have a group of 12 kids that love the sport. I’ve seen it down in Des Moines with my great friend and former UNI player Kurt Flood, who is coaching Dowling Catholic in the State Tournament as well. Niko Felice, current UNI Panther who is assisting current Bremer County Buck, Casey Hansen, a staple of the club for years, will be coaching Cedar Falls for a chance at a title as well. Brent Wheeler, who played at UNI before my time, is looking to coach Southeast Polk to their 4th state title in a row. Evan Sundae & Dennis Oliver will be coaching for Ankeny. These two men have their own rich history in the sport, separate from my UNI roots. Ant Frein, who played for Iowa State, will be coaching Boone for their first appearance at the State Tournament. These are just the coaches who I have met over my years of being around rugby. Lastly, also in their first year of competition, the Mason City High School team is competing at the State Championships as well. This club has been developed under the watchful eye of the men’s team from Mason City known as River City RFC. This club is also the first high school team in that area of the state, opening up doors to new potential teams from that section. There are plenty more coaches and volunteers out their with their own unique story behind them. It’s because of guys like these that will continue to grow this game. The more people like these men, the quicker rugby will grow.
One thing remains the same for all of these men: They are teaching their love for the sport to a new & eager generation. If former players can give back to the next generation, the sport should grow exponentially. It’s the only way the game can grow, from it’s past. It’s a wonderful experience to pass on to a kid who has never heard of the sport and 5 weeks later is a rugger for life. If given opportunities & taught the correct way, these players will be a part of this brotherhood for life. We need to diversify our experiences, spread them throughout the state, and share this sport with everyone who is willing to boot up. It’s an experience I am thankful I was able to get the opportunity to be a part of. I will continue to share the sport and diversify wherever I can. Iowa needs more life long rugby players. It’s the greatest family I know.