Hill staff sergeant headed to Air Force Rugby Mini Camp

  • Published
  • By Mary Lou Gorny
  • Hilltop Times editor
In a sport which resembles a cross between soccer and football and injects some of the intensity and scrappiness of wrestling, rugby takes hardy athletes. Hill's Staff Sgt. Dustin Ballingham, line recruiter for the 419th Fighter Wing, is no exception.

The staff sergeant is soon heading off to the Air Force Rugby Mini Camp at Savannah, Ga., held March 9-15, including a St. Paddy's Day Tournament in which members of the team will be selected.

"Rugby is often called the gentleman's sport -- even though we look as though we just got beat up," he said as he described the nature of the sport he enjoys.

Nominated by the Air Force Reserve Western Recruiting Squadron first shirt, Master Sgt. Kenneth Helgeson, Ballingham plays as a forward. A match, comprised of two 40 minute halves, features play in which team members carry the football to score past the try line, or goal line. The ball must be carried across the line and then touched to the ground or through the player's body touching the ground, waist high and above. Play is constant and stops only when a referee needs to review a call, retrieve a ball or there is an injury on the field. As a defensive rule, tackles only can occur when a player holds the ball, and there is no blocking another player.

"It is very easy to lose track of time, for we are constantly moving and concentrating on the match," he said.

As a forward, Ballingham is key in his role as flanker and lock. "The flanker is constantly on the move making defensive and offensive plays, mainly playing a support role."

To describe what role an athlete who is in the lock position plays, it is best to first describe what happens when the football is so tied up between players, similar to the situation where a jump ball is called in basketball, that a scrum must be called for by the referees.

In a scrum the forwards lock arms and crouch down as a team facing the other team. The two teams literally lean on each other. In the space below and between them a referee throws in the ball.

"The lock is in the second row of the scrum and is in charge of giving power to the scrum and push the opposing team back," Ballingham explained.

Ballingham began playing rugby at the age of 16 but started competing seriously when he was 24.

He explains, "I really didn't have a coach I looked up to or meshed with, until I met Craun Fansler. He was the backs coach for the Air Force Rugby Team for many years and has a wealth of knowledge of the sport.

"When he retired and began working at Hill Air Force Base, he kind of just showed up to our practices at Weber State," Ballingham said. "It was then after speaking with him and playing under his guidance that I knew I wanted to take this sport more seriously than just social play. After three seasons of playing with Weber State that's when I joined the Northside Tigers."

He said he did it to take his skill and play to the next level and is constantly training and working hard to accomplish more as a member of the Division I League team. The Northside Tigers team is comprised of many former college rugby players and a few former football college players who have taken up the sport.

Ballingham also attributes a lot of his success to the many players -- past and present -- who he has learned from, teaching him something new every practice and game. "This is truly one sport no matter if you're the top in the sport you can always learn something new," he said.

Ballingham anticipates the mini camp will include two-a-days starting in the morning and ending in the evening. Then there will be a final competition, a tournament. "The St. Paddy's Day Tournament is one of the biggest tournaments of the year and is the perfect venue for us (Air Force rugby player hopefuls) to show off our skills to compete for a spot on the U.S. Air Force Rugby Team."