Lions leave lasting impresion

D1A Rugby: Lions leave lasting impresion
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Photos Tay Hawker

ST. CHARLES, Mo. – Lindenwood University’s Men’s Rugby team has displayed a commitment to excellence on the pitch ever since its inaugural season kicked off two seasons ago in the fall of 2011. Even more impressive may be the team’s newly found commitment to its community off the pitch.

The Lindenwood Lions, led by Head Coach JD Stephenson, decided to spend their spring break visiting nearby schools, as well as the local Boys & Girls Club. Stephenson knew he wanted his players to make their presence felt in the St. Charles, Mo., area, but the project really began to take shape after being approached by one of his players.

“Coach Stephenson and I were talking, and we really wanted to get in the community and make an impact,” said Lindenwood’s James Poli. “We wanted to let the community know that we are here, and we are committed to the them.”

The University’s spring break was a perfect opportunity for the young men to spend valuable time with children in the St. Charles community. With a week off from exams and other school assignments, the team made their rounds to a number of schools, as well as the Boys & Girls after-school program.

The Lions involved could not help but introduce the game of rugby to the school children. Stephenson and his players instructed the kids through drills and preached the fundamentals of the sport they love.

Getting young people excited about rugby was enjoyable for the Lindenwood players, but the bonds formed were far more important than the passes thrown.

“We are trying to bring some joy into their lives,” said Poli. “Some of them have had difficult times growing up, so we try to have a positive influence on them.”

Poli believes the children had a terrific time with the Lindenwood players, and he is certain that the sentiment is mutual.

“Talking with the boys, they said they gained a greater appreciation for what they have in life,” said the Lindenwood junior about his teammates. “Seeing these kids and how they are not as fortunate as some of us were growing up, left us with a feeling of gratitude.”

The invested time in the community has been especially gratifying for Poli. On a diverse roster with players hailing from all over the country, and several student-athletes representing more than 10 foreign countries, the inside center from nearby Independence, Mo., saw a bit of himself in the children with whom he spent time.

“It’s real special,” said Poli. “Growing up, I spent time at the Boys and Girls Club. It makes a huge impact on a kid’s life when you have somebody older, other than a parent, to look up to.”

The team had plans to work alongside Habitat for Humanity in an effort to build a home for a family in need during spring break as well. Unfortunately, poor weather conditions did not permit the Lions from constructing the home, but the team is eager to reschedule the project while adding additional service-oriented dates for the near future.

“It’s not just a one-time thing,” says Poli. “We’re planning on going back to the Boys and Girls Club and trying to set more events where we can get into the community.”

Understandably, Lindenwood’s focus currently revolves around the upcoming D1A Playoffs. The team has earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs, and will host a National Quarterfinal match April 26. No matter the outcome, Lions will be viewed as champions in St. Charles.