Max Khalilullah was accustomed to spending his time playing sports in high school, but when he made the decision to come to Binghamton for college, he knew there would be no football team there for him to join. At the advice of a former teammate who left for football-less Loyola a year earlier, Khalilullah joined the men’s rugby club as a freshman. He has spent the last four years playing for the Binghamton Devils, and was elected club president last spring.
The Devils’ Alumni Advisory Board works hand-in-hand with the club’s E-Board to make decisions primarily on team funding, the vast majority of which comes from alumni donations, Khalilullah said. Alumni occasionally play alongside current Devils in social tournaments, and former players and current ones get together every May to scrimmage and have a cookout for the team’s Alumni Day.
Bryan Shankman, a sophomore majoring in English and head of marketing for the club, echoed Khalilullah’s thoughts on the durability of the bond that spans teams and generations. Shankman said he knows students at other colleges who participate in other club sports or Greek life in addition to rugby, but at Binghamton, being a member of the rugby team is different.
“It’s like our own little brotherhood,” Shankman said. “You don’t really need anything else because [it’s] 40 guys that you know, you go out there, you play with them every day, you know they’ll hit someone if someone hits you on the field.”
According to Shankman and Khalilullah, this bond and the network it creates, which extends beyond players on a single team to the other athletes making up the world of collegiate rugby, is the most unique thing about the sport.
“If you meet anyone else that plays rugby, it’s like a real niche sport,” Shankman said. “It’s an automatic connection. The only thing I’ve ever really seen that with is maybe wrestling … Like everyone plays football, everyone can shoot a basketball, [but] when you play rugby and you meet another rugby player, it’s like an automatic connection.”
Khalilullah recalled finding it strange as a freshman when teams like Syracuse or Buffalo would come to play and the Devils would invite them back to their house after the game to hang out. The same would happen when the Devils traveled to away matches. Shankman said it has a lot to do with the amount of respect involved in the game, and both agreed they had never really seen anything like it during their high school experiences.
“When I played football, it was like, you hated the kids you played against,” Khalilullah said. “When you play rugby, it’s like you’re just like gentlemen almost. You’re just friendly with [the players from other teams] and you like them and you kind of become friends with them.”
The Devils compete as a part of the Empire Rugby Conference (Division I-AA), which plays a regular 10-game season in the fall, with the postseason and other exhibition matches and tournaments in the spring. The Devils wrapped up their tournament season two weekends ago at the Beast of the East Tournament in Rhode Island, winning five matches to capture the title.
Making the tournament win more exciting than usual, according to Shankman, was the fact that the games saw action from the club’s seniors, who had sacrificed playing time throughout the season in an effort to let the younger players mesh and build chemistry.
“Rugby’s a sport where your experience with who you’re playing with kind of dictates a lot of how you’re gonna play,” Khalilullah said. “At Beast of the East, we were probably one of the smaller teams compared in size to everyone else, but because we’ve played together with each other for so long that we know how everybody works, we kind of mesh better and that makes us just better than everyone else.”
Throughout the year, it was important to the seniors that the younger players worked on creating chemistry on the field and ultimately strengthening the bond which they believe separates them from opponents.
Shankman said being able to finally play alongside those seniors and send them out with a trophy was a special part of the experience.
“The coolest part of that tournament for me was that we had these … five seniors that were graduating, these were the kids from the first day I came out … they were running the practices, they were the older kids … the people you looked up to in the program, and now here it was a chance for me to send them out on a good note in this tournament because they came to play with us,” Shankman said. “Everyone was just playing their hearts out trying to get these guys a last trophy before they graduated from a program that they really did help bring to the next level of competition.”
“He was a freshman [then] and it was his first one, [and] he’s like, ‘This is kind of cool. I just got to college, and I signed up for something that I’m gonna come back to every single year until I die.’”
Khalilullah knows he’ll be back next year too, playing on the other side, but still a part of the same team.
Article written by Megan Brockett and published on Friday, 3 May 2013. Check out the For BU Rugby, brotherhood persists after graduation article on BUPipeDream.com.