Dexter Rugby Football Club heads to Birmingham on Thursday, 14 April (6pm kick-off, Derby Middle School, Birmingham), hoping to avenge last season’s first-ever defeat to that opponent in the Michigan Youth Rugby Association Division One East. The Devils, although based in the Dexter School District, have always drawn on surrounding districts (Grass Lake, Jackson, Whitmore Lake, Milan…) for extra – and often key – players, so this year’s squad of, as of two weeks ago, eighteen exclusively Dexter men looked not only small but also parochial. But then Genesee Elite Head Coach Dustin Steedman, worried about his own club’s numbers this season, suggested a collaboration, which has added eight new players to the Devils’ squad, who will now travel to Birmingham with renewed confidence.
The suggestion came during a 30 March scrimmage with Genesee Elite at Dexter’s home ground on Merrill Road, Hamburg. Genesee had been one of last season’s most challenging league opponents for Dexter — without a tremendous long-distance penalty goal from captain and centre Jake Rayer and a brilliant, trademark interception for a try from fly-half Tristin Staebler, the 2015 Devils would have returned from Flint with no points. Indeed, some observers thought that Genesee offered the best Eastern Division opposition the Devils faced all season, notwithstanding the shock of that home defeat to Birmingham. But what kept Genesee out of the playoffs last year looks to have dogged them again this season: low and unpredictable numbers – last year they played their last two league matches not only without substitutes, but also short of a full playing XV, and this year Steedman feared similar problems. In fact, the meeting with Dexter was initially scheduled as a regular league fixture, but early spring-break departures in Flint led to Steedman’s proposal to play a scrimmage instead, and then to his suggestion that the two clubs collaborate for the entire season. The result: eight strong, new players for Dexter, and an extra, experienced coach, to add to Dexter’s Head Coaches, Paul Burke and Doug Karaska, and Assistant Coach Steve Turosky (who is also the new head coach at EMU).
Birmingham, coached as ever by Jim Clawson, will be a powerful opponent, with well-drilled forwards and a never-say-die approach to the game. Their players, many of them experienced (only five Dexter men in the Devils squad have one or more seasons under their belts), will be buoyed by last year’s victory at Merrill Road – only the second home defeat for Dexter in the last four years – and will look to take advantage of the Devils’ inexperience. They will be the first of four challenging Eastern Division opponents this season, with the Devils’ league matches followed immediately by a weekend away at the Midwest High School Boys Rugby Championship in Elkhart, IN, where this year Dexter will play in the Festival Bracket, thereby avoiding the nationally-ranked opponents who have, in previous years, given the Devils lessons in high-class schoolboy Rugby (then national no 1 Cathedral, of Indianapolis, left a particularly powerful impression on the 2014 Devils, who went down to a 51-0 defeat, although Dexter did go on to defeat Culver Academy 13-5, to produce a respectable showing in a challenging bracket).
Two weeks ago, fast-expanding college Rugby also provided confirmation of the ongoing success of the DRFC program at the first-ever Michigan College Cup, where the hosts, UM, defeated Oakland University in the final. Dexter’s four-year Devil Guy Burke (DHS, 2014) led an inexperienced home team to victory, while ex-Devils also played (and starred) for Michigan State, Central Michigan, Grand Valley State, and EMU; and on the touchlines, current Devils, former Devils, and Devils’ supporters were out in significant numbers. Clearly, the fifteen-made code of football is in excellent health in the Dexter School District.
Dexter’s squad list, with further details of the Dexter Rugby program, may be accessed here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/2ypd3vcs3909w8p/DRFC%20Team%20Sheet%202016.pdf?dl=0. For further information on Dexter Rugby, go to the Facebook page for “Dexter Rugby” or http://www.rugbymichigan.org/page/show/2367446-dexter. Follow DRFC on Twitter@DexterRugby.