Maddog makes it to USA regional team
Stephen “Boomer” Hickey, a local Augusta rugby player, has been taking on national competitors ever since making the Regional USA South Select rugby team.
Hickey, who has been an avid rugby player for close to 12 years, was first introduced to the idea of playing through his wife while living in Ocala, Florida.
“I was bored out of my mind going to school and working a part-time job, so when she brought home a brochure that said Ocala had a rugby team and told me to get my butt out of the house for a while, I reluctantly went out and tried my hand at it,” Hickey said. “I fell in love with the sport instantly.”
Hickey wasn’t completely new to the sport of rugby, however. Although he never played before 2001, his uncle, Grady Leonard, exposed him to the sport while playing for the Augusta Maddogs in the 1990s. Now, Hickey is vice president and field captain for the same team. He’s been a member since 2008, which is about the time he began playing rugby more seriously.
Hickey, one of four Maddog players to try out for the USA South Panthers, is the only player from Augusta to get a jersey as a member of the starting 15 traveling squad. Over 100 hopefuls tried out to represent the south region, and only a select few earned a spot on the traveling side of the team.
The members of the Maddogs always knew Hickey was a natural talent when it came to the sport.
“It’s a pretty big deal for him to make the [south select team],” said Brian Kaufman, president of Augusta Rugby Club. “We all know he is good, and I was glad he was on our team rather than the competitors.”
This is the second year in a row that the Panthers will be participating in the North American Caribbean Ruby Association (NACRA) 15s Championships, but this year will be Hickey’s first.
Although this was Hickey’s first time trying out for the team, he isn’t a stranger to playing in national tournaments. As a member of the Air Force team, he participated in the Armed Forces Championships three years in a row. In 2011, the team played against the Australia and All New Zealand Air Force in Australia.
The Panthers could actually end up playing up to five different national teams in the tournament depending on how far they make it; the tournament itself is based on a knockout format.
“One loss and you’re out,” Hickey said.
The team recently defeated Mexico, the No. 2 seed, which advanced them a ticket to Jamaica where they will take on the Jamaican National team in mid-February. If the team pulls out another win, they will be set to play against the Bahamas.
With the necessity of traveling to each competition, Hickey doesn’t allow it to affect his personal life, or his job as the principal of Our Lady of Peace, a local Catholic school.
“In my life I have my family, my work and then I play rugby. I love all three of them dearly and have a passion for them all,” Hickey said. “I just take one day off [of work], leaving Thursday night and getting back on Sunday. Physically it’s a strain on me but it hasn’t been a hindrance on my job.”
As for Hickey’s future with rugby, he doesn’t see himself pursuing the sport much beyond what he has already achieved.
“It would be great to go forward with other Select Sides, but I don’t see that happening,” Hickey said. “I don’t expect to do anything more than participate on this team and, of course, the Maddogs.”
With most national sports, the peak in age averages 26 to 27 years old. At 31, Hickey says he is just playing at the highest competitive level as long as he can.
With the help of the local Maddogs, he can do just that. The team is a part of the Augusta Rugby Club, a group that is always looking to recruit players of all experience levels that are interested in being a part of the team.
Rugby is a year-long sport, with a more serious season from February-March. But the social side of the team is always in full swing.
And being social has become a big part of who the Maddogs are. The group holds numerous social events, whether to relax after a game or just to get together and have a few drinks and a good meal.
“The Metro [a coffee house and pub] is our main sponsor,” Hickey said. “They host all of our socials, let us cook our after-game meals on-site, and we of course have a few drinks. It’s where we can just hang out post match with the team we just played and talk rugby.”
With February just starting, the Maddog team is preparing for their weekends to be filled with plenty of rugby. For Hickey, it means double the fun as he will now be playing for two different teams.
“When I play rugby, I want to put my best foot forward,” Hickey said. “I am always looking to better myself by being exposed to the best rugby possible.”
Anyone who may be interested in joining the Augusta team can visit their website, augustarugby.org. You Might Also Like: