The Calm Before The Storm

Phoenix rugby team reflects on 2015 season

By Anthony Costello, May 2015 Issue.

While training and practice are necessary contingents for success in sport, the success of a team isn’t always measured in goals scored or wins tabulated. It’s heart, spirit, chemistry and dedication that make a team successful – just ask the Phoenix Storm Rugby Football Club.

With the addition of several players and a change at the coaching position, the 2015 season served as learning experience for everyone wearing the Storm uniform.

Toward the end of the 2015 season, veteran player Steve Enteman replaced retiring coach Mike Fortey. Enteman, who has played for the Storm since 2008, didn’t waste any time getting to work in his new role. His top priority: getting the rookies up to speed.

“The win is less of a concern this year, I’m more concerned with skill building,” Enteman said. “We had so many new guys this season, and the reality is skill building is more of a victory than actually winning the game.”

The Storm currently has 12 active players, just three short of the 15-man team requirement, who have been playing modified 10-on-10 games. According to Enteman, the fewer players on the field, the more physically demanding the game is, adding that 10-on-10 games require a completely different strategic approach.

“There’s been some limitations with the number of teammates … which [results in] team members having to cover more ground; it’s a huge handicap especially if the other team can compensate for that and use it against you,” Enteman said. “But it’s a learning experience in controlling the ball, tackling and field position, and that’s where I saw guys really starting to step up in that situation.”

To get both experienced and new members prepared for the season, the Storm has built a partnership with the Camelback Rugby Club over the past two years, exchanging members to fill their A- and B-side teams.

“A-side is the ‘A-team’ so to speak, the B-side is for those just learning the sport,” said co-captain and Storm veteran Tony Alonzo. “When we play games with Camelback, the A-side is mostly their team with a few of our experienced players … the B-sides are typically filled with rookies who are in their first season, getting their experience.”

This divided focus allows the experienced members to build upon their existing skillsets, Alonzo explained, while the new members can start forming the foundations of their own skills with other players who share similar levels of experience.

Thanks to the symbiotic partnership with Camelback, Enteman said he is already seeing vast improvements in the new players.

“Maintaining ball possession, how to defend the ball, running and contact … those are the beginning keys to rugby right there … those are the three main areas that teams need to master,” Enteman said, adding that he’s already seen players start to improve upon those skills.


Photo by Bill Gemmill.

Although Enteman has several years of experience playing rugby with the Storm, Camelback and other teams, he said coaching is an entirely new learning experience.

“It was easy for me to step into [this role], but for me personally I’m struggling with stepping away from being a player,” he said. “Now I’m the guy giving instructions on the field, so that changes the dynamic.”

Enteman said his relationship with Alonzo eases some of the pressure of coaching.

“Tony’s a leader on and off the field,” he said. “I’ve known him throughout this entire time so our relationship is very strong.”

Alonzo expressed that he enjoys his position as co-captain, providing leadership on the field and collaborating with Coach Enteman.

“I’m the guy they look to if they have questions about plays; I keep the line of communication open between the team and the coach,” Alonzo said. “I give them the breakdown on practices, where games are, what to expect, that kind of stuff.”

Enteman also spoke positively of Alonzo’s fellow co-captain of the Storm Marquelus Graham and his contributions to the team.

“Marquelus is a good, strong player who played with Camelback,” Enteman said,

“I’m just starting to build that coach/co-captain relationship with him.”

The Storm’s 2015 season is now coming to a close, culminating in the Magnitude 15 tournament ( Memorial Day weekend in Seattle. The International Gay Rugby tournament, sponsored by the Seattle Quake, will host teams from the western half of the United States and Canada in a round-robin format.

According to Alonzo, his torn shoulder tendon won’t stop him from playing in the tournament.

“I’m not worried … but if it’s going to cause further damages I won’t play, but usually I just do it,” Alonzo said, adding that the team is otherwise healthy. “There’s always going to be some bruise, cut or scrape or something … maybe even a black eye.”

In retrospect, Enteman is pleased with the Storm’s overall performance throughout the season, and is already planning areas of focus for the team to concentrate on heading into the next season.

“Our first goal is to gain numbers,” he said. “Next is to continue building basic skills, and that’s my primary focus … wins are always our focus, but the realistic goal is to just get points on the board and play solid games is what matters more.”

The team’s heart, spirit, chemistry and dedication, Enteman and Alonzo agreed, are also attributes the players will continue to build on.

“I don’t think I’d ever change anything about the team,” Alonzo said. “We tend to stick together a lot more and I like our family dynamic.”

Enteman echoed Alonzo sentiments on the team’s camaraderie.

“You have to work together at all levels to be successful; this isn’t an individual’s game,” Enteman said. “Getting a good cohesive group together, with the right level of camaraderie … the social aspect is crucial.”



Members of the Phoenix Storm serve Thanksgiving dinner at one n ten’s Phoenix youth center Nov. 26. 2014. Photo by KJ Philp.

Phoenix Storm Gives Back: Rugby team pair camaraderie and community

Becoming a team member of the Phoenix Storm requires a level of commitment that goes beyond playing your best every time your feet hit the field.

The men of the local rugby team are a busy group, whose schedules regularly consist of training, competing, traveling to tournaments, fundraising to cover funds for travel expenses, getting proper rest and meeting the demands of their full-time jobs.

“Rugby is a huge commitment; it can take its toll on people’s social lives and that’s not even including fundraising that we tend to push a lot more during Bingham Cup years,” said Storm co-captain Tony Alonzo, who originally signed up with the team at the Storm’s Rainbows Festival booth in 2005. “Once you tie in all the fundraising and practice, all you can do sometimes is eat, sleep and breathe rugby.”

Even with nonstop schedules, the team still finds time to volunteer and fundraise for community organizations. In fact, being involved and giving back as a team is almost considered a tacit agreement.

“There’s a lot of time committed to rugby with training and then playing games,” Enteman said. “So, when there’s downtime the guys really take advantage of it.”

The Storm has board members – typically about four players and four nonplayers – who pitch, plan and enact fundraisers for both charity and to cover such team costs as equipment and travel expenses for tournaments.


Members of the Phoenix Storm serve Thanksgiving dinner at one n ten’s Phoenix youth center Nov. 26. 2014. Photo by KJ Philp.

One of the Storm’s signature community service events is serving Thanksgiving dinner at one n ten’s Phoenix youth center.

“We’ve had individuals of the team involved with one n ten outside of the Thanksgiving event, but serving Thanksgiving dinner is one of our primary events,” Alonzo said. “I was part of one n ten as a kid way back when, so it’s nice to help them out.”

The added bonus for Alonzo is providing the LGBT youth of one n ten with role models, especially gay sports role models outside of mainstream sports where coming out and being open about it is still rather taboo.

“Growing up I never knew anyone who was openly gay in sports,” Alonzo said. “We [want] to let them know that there’s stuff out there for them.”

The Storm also recently participated in Dodge Hunger, a dodgeball tournament to helpraise money for Joshua Tree Feeding Progran – a food bank dedicated to providing nutritional assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS in the Metro Phoenix area.

“We got our butts kicked – we’re way better at rugby than dodgeball,” said Storm Coach Steve Enteman.

The Storm also volunteers and fundraises for charity, as well as the team, at a variety of local events, including Rainbows Festival, Phoenix Pride and the Arizona Gay Rodeo.

“Just helping these organizations put on events helps out the community as a whole,” Enteman said. “It makes us stronger individuals [and] has a trickle down effect, too.”

While Enteman recalls the “old days” of fundraising through carwashes and beer pong, he said he’s glad the team has become more focused on supporting local LGBT organizations – many of which have provided personal support to members of the team throughout the years.

“I love the rugby lifestyle,” Alonzo said, in reference to the team’s community involvement. “I’ll be involved with it for many years to come. Even if I stop playing for some reason, I’ll still be involved in some way.”

Rugby Rules

While most sports fans are familiar with the rules of American Football, many still don’t exactly know how the sport of rugby is played or what it entails. Ultimately, the main goal in rugby is to score as many points as possible in an 80-minute timeframe, with the team moving the ball up the field in phases of play.

Here are some basics on the general rules, players, equipment, scoring when it comes to rugby:

The Game

Rugby games are split into two 40-minute halves with 10-minute rest periods in between; the game ends at 80 minutes exactly. The game stops if a player is fouled, ball goes out of play or a try, or drop goal is scored.

The main playing area must not exceed 100 meters and the two dead goal areas range from 10 to 12 meters.

The ball can never be passed forward, but must only be passed backward to a teammate as the team moves the ball down the field.

Attacking players must remain behind the ball whilst in possession or run the risk of being offside; players may only be ahead of the ball if they’re not interfering with play and must fall back behind the ball before interfering play.

The defending team must tackle opposing players by grabbing a hold and pulling them to the floor; a tackle cannot be made over shoulder height (doing so results in a foul).

A successful conversion, penalty or kick at goal occurs only if a player kicks the ball through the top section of a goal; if the player is unsuccessful the ball remains in play until it crosses one of the playing fields boundaries.

The Players

Each team consists of 15 players, split into two groups known as forwards and backs. Players wear studded boots along with gum shields, head guards, shoulder and shin pads. Players that have left the field may only return if they were treated for an injury.

There are eight forwards: hooker, prop, second row, number eight and flanker positions). There are seven backs: scrum half, fly half, inside centre, outside centre, full back and wingers’ positions).

The match is called by one referee and two touch judges who assist by notifying referee when players are in touch; out of playing boundaries.

The H-shaped goalpost must be at least 5-6 meters apart with no restrictions on height.

The Scoring

There are four ways to score in rugby. A try occurs when a player places ball down in an opponent’s dead ball area behind goal and is worth five points. A conversion, a free kick that must pass between the upper posts and bar on the goal, is worth two bonus points. A penalty kick, when the opposing team causes an infringement, is worth three points. A drop goal, the ball can be kicked out of hand as long as it bounces first, is worth three points.