August 20, 2015 — Sometimes, the men and women that represent the U.S. Coast Guard wear a different type of uniform: a rugby jersey.
Each year, the Coast Guard rugby team participates in the Armed Forces Rugby Tournament, a smaller tournament within the Serevi Rugbytown Sevens tournament. At the tournament, the team competes against rugby teams from all other branches of the armed forces.
The team is made up of active-duty and reserve Coast Guard members that come together for a common goal: to represent the U.S. Coast Guard while playing the sport they love.
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But upon arrival, their focus wasn’t entirely on the rugby tournament. Members from the team took time to volunteer at a local veteran’s hospital and, the next day, also spent time at a local children’s hospital.
“Being able to take some of the veterans’ minds off of an impending surgery, operation or any other medical procedure gave them a chance to have a moment of normalcy during a difficult time,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Vincent Nitopi.
To conclude the first day of the tournament on August 14, the teams from each branch of the armed service came together to honor fallen rugby players. Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Garren, an aviation survival technician currently assigned to Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans, represented the Coast Guard team by honoring Seaman Shawn Debenport, a teammate of his from New Orleans who was killed in an off-duty motorcycle accident in 2013.
The tournament got off to a great start for the Coast Guard team. In their first match against the U.S. Navy’s rugby team, they were handed a swift victory, winning 24 to 7.
One member of the team, Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Geckas, a machinery technician currently assigned to Coast Guard Station Tybee Island, Georgia, was given the honor of being selected for the all-tournament team. As a member of this team, Geckas will join hand-selected members from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps to compete in another upcoming tournament, representing the best players from the armed forces.
While the team didn’t win the tournament, they appreciated the opportunity to come together to represent the Coast Guard while playing the sport they are passionate about.
“We love coming to the city of Glendale and the guys have established themselves as somewhat of the fan favorites,” said Lt. Cmdr. James McManus, who has been with the team since 2002. “It’s awesome to be out there. Every one of the guys loves doing this. It’s an opportunity that you don’t get in a lot of other places.”