Incirlik Airmen build resilience with new rugby team

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Helen Keller, an American author and activist, once said “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

This is what two Airmen discovered when they worked together to bring one of their dreams to life: establishing a rugby football club at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The dream started when Maj. Michael Stacpoole, a health care integrator for the 39th Medical Group, saw one of his comrades, Tech. Sgt. Trebor Lewis, watching a rugby game on television at the local Airman ministry center, known here as the Titan’s Refuge.

“When I entered the Refuge I saw Lewis had a rugby game on the TV and asked if he was interested in playing,” Stacpoole recounted. “Lewis informed me that he would love to play and had done so in the past.”

Stacpoole and Lewis went to the drawing board with their plan. Stacpoole focused on safety coordination and face-to-face recruitment while Lewis studied the game rules, conducted social media campaigns and searched for coaches.

Lewis, who serves as the 39th Maintenance Squadron’s fabrication section chief, described rugby as a more fast-paced version of American football.

“If you take American football and European football (soccer), and mash them together—rugby is the baby which comes out,” he said. “The gameplay is constant. It doesn’t stop just because the ball hits the ground.”

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Rugby football is a contact sport which began in the town of Rugby, England, in the mid-1800s. Its roots stretch back even further, to various ball games played in ancient Europe. As an ancestor of American football, it has its own rules and terminologies distinct from the sport more well-known in the U.S.

For example, touchdowns are called “tries” and the field is called the “pitch.” There are also scrums: vigorous maneuvers in which players of two opposing teams pack tightly together, tuck their heads down, and joust for possession of the ball by trying to hook it backward with their feet.

Scrums are conducted whenever there is a penalty or the ball comes out of play.

“I’ve been studying the rules constantly and brushed up on areas I wasn’t very familiar in,” said Lewis. “I spent probably 10 to 15 hours just reading the rugby by-laws.”

Lewis learned rugby from his mentor during an assignment to the Korean peninsula several years ago. As for Stacpoole, his Irish and South African heritage has provided him with knowledge of the sport for most of his life.

What began as a spark of inspiration between two friends exploded into a wildfire; word spread rapidly of the project, and soon a motley crew of volunteers poured in. The players’ experiences ranged from rookie to reasonably-proficient.

Although many of the players on the new team weren’t experts in rugby, Lewis said his ragtag corps was united by love for the game and a passion for learning—and that was enough to drive them forward.

They put their heads together by exchanging ideas, experiences and lessons, and also quite literally during weekly practices when doing scrums. These efforts, along with the blood, sweat and tears which fueled them, culminated during the league’s inaugural game.

Cheered on by a small but enthusiastic crowd, the players showcased everything they learned.
“I was excited to see that the work Lewis and I had put in was bearing fruit,” Stacpoole said. “I was also extremely surprised at how quickly we were able to get people interested and willing to play the sport.”

“It is our goal to make this club a permanent fixture of life at Incirlik,” he continued.

The rugby culture emphasizes respect and camaraderie: principles Stacpoole believes are beneficial.

Lewis recalled the euphoria he felt upon seeing his imagination become reality.

“It was a dream come true,” he said. “I was absolutely ecstatic. The feeling still hasn’t gone away.”

He noted many lessons in rugby which people can apply into their daily lives, especially when it comes to resilience.

“When you get tackled, get back up; don’t let anybody keep you down,” he said. “Don’t let your emotions take control … and always find ways to keep the ball moving forward.”

Lewis went on to praise the unique culture of his beloved sport, saying rugby clubs are not simply teams meeting to play a game, but extended families as well.

To illustrate, he mentioned a tradition in the rugby world affectionately called the ‘third half,’ which is a social event conducted by the host team after a game for all players involved. In the first and second halves of a rugby game, opposing teams battle each other to score the most tries. But in the third half, when the game is over, the teams shake hands and share a meal as friends.

It's because of traditions such as the third half that rugby is not just a sport, but a way of life as well, Lewis explained.

“Rugby clubs are just that: clubs—not just a team that gets together to play,” he said. “The club becomes your family; social outings and family events are done together.”

Lewis hopes more people take notice of the new rugby club because it is a great way to relieve stress, stay fit and meet new friends. He recalled a lesson his mentor taught him: wherever you go, do not just teach the sport—grow the culture as well.

Thus Lewis, Stacpoole and the rest of the club have made it their mission to grow their new family, and invite the rest of the Incirlik community to discover what rugby football is all about.