For more than 30 years, Rich Bergemann has been part of the rugby brotherhood.
Bergemann, who has been with Mid-States since October 2016 as the director of engineering, started playing rugby in 1984, right after high school. After joining the Army, he was quickly introduced to the game by one of the guys in his unit and promptly joined the club league. His team regularly played teams from other posts and towns around Fort Knox, where he was stationed.
When Bergemann started in rugby, his primary position was flanker, which is kind of like being the middle linebacker in football, he said.
After 10 years as a flanker, Bergemann knew he wanted more of a leadership role which would require “smarts of the game,” rather than just running and tackling with the ball. So he switched to Scrum-half.
“Plus, you tend to get hurt a lot less as a scrum-half,” he laughed.
“You communicate the plays, calls and communicate between the forwards and the backs,” Bergemann said.
Bergemann describes rugby as a quintessential team game. There are 15 players and no one person or position can really dominate the game. Plus, the game is about more than just the physical.
“You really have to think about and set up the play,” Bergemann said. “You have to be tough and smart.”
Bergemann refers to rugby as a brotherhood. While the competition is tough on the field, as soon as the match is over the home team hosts a social for the visitors.
“Once you leave the field, the competition is gone,” Bergemann said. “It’s time to have a good time.”
Over the course of the years, Bergemann has played on several rugby teams. He spent a year on an all-military team, which took him to Germany and throughout Europe, including a trip to France. After the Army, he played with the Wisconsin Rugby Club in Madison for 20 years. In 1998, the team won the National Championship in California.
One of the things that makes the sport great, Bergemann said, is that there are less injuries in rugby than in any other sport. The physical contact is taught differently. There is no blocking allowed. Blindside hits are forbidden, and tackles must occur at the waist level. Plus, you can’t just hit. You have to wrap, and you can only hit the ball carrier.
It can be a tough game to play, too. Not only do you need to compete physically, but you need to compete mentally. And all of this is done in all types of weather. Basically, unless there is lightning, the match must go on. In 1996, Bergemann was playing in Arctic Fest in Stevens Point. It was -30 degrees before the wind chill. His team won.
“Hail is the worst though,” he said. “Hail hurts. You can’t look up.”
After a roughly 10-year hiatus, Bergemann decided to start up the Oregon-Stoughton Rugby Club in 2013, when his son Richie was a high school freshman. Bergemann is the founder and head coach of the club.
“Kids can start playing in high school now and experience that teamwork and camaraderie,” Bergemann said, adding it was really exciting to see his son take such an interest in a sport he played for years. Richie now plays for University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “Once they start, they don’t stop. It’s all about the love of the sport.”
In addition to coaching, Bergemann also plays in the Old Boys Club (40+) once or twice a year, schedules all the high school teams in the state of Wisconsin and is on the board for the Badgerland Conference and State Union. He manages schedules for 34 teams in two conferences.
In his free time, you can catch Bergemann cheering for the United States Eagles and Ireland. Professional rugby is played year-round, and rugby just made its way back into the Olympics in 2016.
Oregon-Stoughton Rugby Club: www.ohsrugby.com