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'A hidden gem': With deep roots, rugby lives on in Montana

Posted at 7:06 PM, Apr 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-14 12:14:18-04

BUTTE — A native Texan and avid cross country runner, Tanner Nolen knew absolutely nothing about the sport of rugby before arriving at Montana Tech his freshman year.

"I had never played the sport, let alone watched it," Nolen said.

Then he learned about the Butte Crabs Rugby Club and showed up to a practice. A few scrums, rucks and passes later, he was hooked.

"I kind of fell in love with the sport," said Nolen, now a senior and vice president of the club, on Saturday afternoon at the practice field south of Tech's HPER Complex where the Crabs were running a rugby clinic with a few dozen participants.

He's not the only one to catch the rugby bug.

The Crabs, who were founded in 1977 by Tech students, are a member of the Montana Rugby Union -- affiliated with USA Rugby -- which has clubs spread across Montana, Idaho and Washington.

Perhaps one of the most well-known clubs in the union is the Missoula All-Maggots, who have claimed 25 MRU titles and are the current defending champions.

Whether in Butte, Missoula, Helena or Billings, the current MRU players are continuing on a tradition that's been in place for nearly 50 years.

"I think it's really a hidden gem, especially for Montana," Nolen said. "A lot of people don't realize the fact that almost every major city here has a team."

Kendra Zander, one of the few women out at Saturday's clinic, is a Glendive native who played just about every sport in high school but, like Nolen, didn't pick up a rugby ball for the first time until she came to Tech.

She spoke about Tech's rugby club as more than a team, but a community. And she said anyone who is interested should join, no prior rugby experience required.

"All you need to be able to do is be able to catch a ball and we'll teach you the rest," she said.