Some have come from distant cities, towns, states and even countries, while others have not journeyed nearly as far. They have come from many different professions, backgrounds and stages of life.
All have come together to go Rogue.
The venerable Flint Rogues Rugby Club is celebrating its 45th year, making this ever-colorful collection of hard-nosed, passionate and resilient characters Genesee County’s oldest amateur sports team.
“Why have the Rouges been together for 45 years? That’s a fantastic question,” says Rob Moquin, an insurance agent who has played for and served the club in various capacities since 1982. “We’ve lasted this long because of the nature of the game itself – the values it teaches – passion, integrity, discipline and respect. Once you’ve laced your boots for Flint, you’re a Rogue. You’ve become a part of a unique family, and you realize that.”
Moquin, who joined the club after running into several players wearing Rogues jerseys at a Flint-area bar, considers himself fortunate to have been able to battle on the pitch and build relationships with such a diverse group.
“Over the decades, we have had such a variety of players join us from many different shapes and sizes and walks of life,” he says. “We’ve had players from all over Genesee County, Michigan, the U.S. and the world, from zero experience to international experience. The one common thread we all share is the love of the game.”
Among those who have traveled the farthest before joining the Rogues is current Club President, Howel King, a native of Pontypool, Wales who moved to the Flint area in 1990 to take a dental technician job.
He grew up “playing all the popular sports” which in Wales meant soccer, cricket and track and field, but there was something about rugby that intrigued King the most.
“From the start, rugby has been the sport that’s offered the most camaraderie and sense of team spirit,” he says. “Most of the close friendships I have stemmed from being involved in the sport.”
King assumed he was likely finished with the sport he loves upon coming to the U.S.. only to discover his involvement was just beginning.
“Not long after I moved here, I saw a notice in the local newspaper that the Rogues were looking for players, so I had to check the club out and wound up sticking around for 27 years now,” he laughs. “I have loved being part of this organization ever since. Sure, we’ve had our successful years with some 40 players on the roster, and more difficult years, but I think it’s always been a great experience for those involved.”
King played briefly before realizing that, with his Rugby IQ, he could better serve the Rogues as a coach. As president, King’s role is club promotion and recruitment of new players, among other duties.
Current Coach, Jeff Krumpholz, is simply thankful that King, who was named “Rogue of the Year” at the club’s awards banquet in February, remains involved.
“The Rogues have been blessed with some strong leadership in the past and present and Howel King knows what running a rugby club is all about,” says Krumpholz, who joined the Rogues after moving to the Flint area from Bay City in 2010. “He has guided the club as a coach through better and worse times, and was really responsible for us getting our clubhouse.”
The Rogues turned the former Deville Lounge into their clubhouse in 2015. Located on Davison Road, it’s not far from Longway Park where the men practice and play their home games.
King calls the clubhouse’s opening an important moment in Rogues’ history.
“Having a home base has meant a lot for the club because, we now have one place we can gather for meetings and anything else,” he says. “We get together and watch rugby, take care of club business and plan for the future.”
Another turning point was securing sponsorship to help offset the Rogues’ roughly $4,000 per year operating costs. Membership dues and fundraisers usually cover the rest.
“Budweiser has been a major sponsor since 1999, which has really helped with the costs of things like uniforms and equipment,” King says. “Their support is a big reason the Rogues are still around today.”
Today’s Rogues have a roster of roughly 22 players, who began the spring season with road losses to the Detroit Tradesmen and Battle Creek Griffons before a home loss to the Bay City-based Tri-County Barbarians.
“Our first game was a little tough, but that was expected because Detroit has a strong, deep club,” Krumpholz says. “Our second game was much better as we played a playoff team from our division and were ahead until about 15 minutes left. Conditioning got the best of us, but we gave them all they could handle and put them on notice. They were a national finalist a few years ago, but we are closing the gap.”
The Rogues, who also went 2-6 in Midwest Rugby Union play last fall, finally closed the gap on the competition April 15 in the second half of a road contest against the Traverse City Blues. Down 29-7 at halftime, they somehow roared back, holding Traverse City scoreless in the second half on the way to a 41-29 win.
“I think we’ve been pretty good so far, considering we have some new players and that not everybody can make it to every practice with our various schedules,” said third-year player Byron Lawrence prior to the April 15 win. “We might have had the Barbarians beat with a little more energy, but we have the talent to be a solid team. It’s just a matter of us all playing together more and becoming more consistent. I’d say it’s possible for us to go at least 6-2 in the fall season and get into the playoffs.”
A North Carolina native and eight-year military veteran, Lawrence joined the Rogues after moving to the state when his wife took a job in the area upon graduating from the University of Michigan.
“I played different sports in the Army and I’m a pretty competitive person, so being part of the Rogues is great for me,” says Lawrence, a family therapist who became aware of the club while helping a friend move. “I fell in love with rugby from the moment I first tried it and the Rogues are a band of brothers like I was part of in the military. It’s great to have a group of guys who you can rely on.”
But, for Lawrence, that’s not the most satisfying aspect of being a Rogue.
“No, the best part is hitting people,” he says. “It’s a good way to take out the frustrations of everyday life.”
Among the other notable players is Rory Hill, last season’s team MVP, who had racked up 152 points in his last 20 games through April 8. John Stenger has 78 points in his last 14 games.
Other 2016 award recipients were Matt Miller (Forward of the Year), Connor Kovacs (Back of the Year), Markieze Mitchell (Most Improved Player) and Josh Tousley (Rookie of the Year).
There are many others who keep Rogues running smoothly like Treasurer, Bobby Molina, whose association with club began as a player in 1979.
As much they enjoy each other’s company on the pitch, many find the social part of being a Rogue even better.
“We are a big, dysfunctional family,” jokes Krumpholz, who actually played against the Rogues for 15 seasons while with the Tri-City Barbarians. “We do hang out off the pitch fairly often. It starts at the after-match socials and we usually go out for Taco Tuesday at The Fox after practice, and to The Red Baron for wings on Thursdays. In the offseason, we keep in touch with a few organized activities or in smaller groups hitting the town.”
The Rogues have enjoyed their share of success in the years since Larry Marfechuk and Jim Keener founded the club in March of 1972, including a 2010 Midwest Rugby Union Northern League Championship, Division II Michigan Cup crowns in 1990, 1992, 2002 and 2003, the 1980 Michigan Rugby Union B Division title and 1984 Division I Michigan Cup championship.
Players from those teams can often be seen checking out the current version of the Rogues.
“When our old boys watch us play and come back to our clubhouse to share stories of their playing days, it’s easy to see why we’ve lasted this long,” Moquin said. “We stand on the shoulders of the ones who came before us, and we don’t want to let them down. We all learned quickly we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.”
That sums up what it means to go Rogue.