It has been a soggy and cold start to spring, but that hasn’t stopped one local sport from ramping back up. The Albany Bootleggers Men’s Rugby Club recently kicked off its season.
The Bootleggers bill themselves as Albany’s premier men’s rugby club. The team is made up of young professionals from 21 to 50. Founding Club President Erik Dollman says the team was created about six years ago.
“We decided to put together a rugby team that had a little bit more focus on the social and fraternal and community aspects of rugby,” Dollman said. “There was already a rugby team in Albany, and they’re great. They’re just a little more competitively focused. I was already 32 years old so the glory days of my athletic career were behind me, and I wanted to do something a little more casual and that’s how we started the Bootleggers."
Rugby is still quite new to the United States. It has its similarities to American football, but with no pads or helmets. A rugby ball even resembles a pigskin. The goal is to score a try, like a touchdown, for five points. You can also score a two-point conversion after a try, if a player kicks the ball through the goal posts. Those posts are basically the same as field goal posts. In addition, a player can dropkick the ball through the goalposts at any time in a rugby match. But, unlike football, there are no downs. A team remains on the offensive until it loses possession of the ball, which can happen multiple ways– via tackle, interception or knock-on, like a fumble.
David Iversen, a Troy-based lawyer, is a founding member and the treasurer of the Albany Bootleggers.
“Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond, who was a famous bootlegger back in Prohibition and actually the E. Stewart Jones Firm in Troy, I believe, E. Stewart Jones Jr.’s grandfather defended him on bootlegging charges,” Iversen said. “He got away with it. He was eventually shot outside of the courthouse. But, it’s a very famous Albany story and we just kind of took it to heart, I guess.”
Club President Michael Perazzini, a property title searcher, says the friendly atmosphere makes it easy for working professionals and fathers to enjoy the game they love. But it’s not all rugby. The club is also involved in the community. Perazzini, says team members volunteer during the holidays.
“We collect gifts that we bring to Siena through the Franciscan Center there, and donate them to families. Every year we have a Christmas in July pub crawl where we raise money for [the] Lt. Colonel Kevin M. Shea memorial scholarship,” says Perazzini.
Dollman is currently serving in the Air National Guard and belongs to The Old Breed Rugby. He says Old Breed was founded in memory of Lt. Colonel Kevin M. Shea. Shea, a former rugby player and coach, was killed in Iraq in September 2004.
“Over time, the team took on a little bit of a broader mission, which was to raise money in his name, to support the children of fallen Marine Corps rugby players,” says Dollman.
Micah Ilowit, a Capital Region school social worker and a father, says he found his love for rugby late in life. The 37-year-old says Bootleggers allows him to play within his busy schedule.
“We take it seriously, but it's not a lot of pressure either if that makes sense. So, it’s good for someone a little older and has a lot of responsibilities,” says Ilowit.
Perazzini says the team travels throughout the region to play every other weekend.
“We play against Albany Law, we play against the Highlander Rugby Club, which is down in the Catskills. We play the Mohawk Valley Mercenaries out in Rome and Bennington Battle and we’re going to be playing Rutland,” says Perazzini.
And because of the bumps, bruises and scrapes that come with such a physical sport, the Bootleggers' are open to new members. They practice in Albany’s Lincoln Park at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.