• Chrisman grad part of Samoan rugby squad that excels in first year

  • When Kia Tuala graduated from William Chrisman High School in 2001, he thought his pursuit of athletic excellence was over.

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  • When Kia Tuala graduated from William Chrisman High School in 2001, he thought his pursuit of athletic excellence was over.
    “I loved playing football for Coach (Joe) Keeton and the Bears,” said Tuala, who is now a firefighter in Lee’s Summit, “and it really hurt when my high school career ended. I didn’t think I’d ever get to play organized sports again.”
    Fast forward 12 years, and you will find Tuala living a dream. He is a standout on the Kansas City Islanders Rugby Club, a first-year squad that is made up of many players with Samoan heritage.
    “We have two father-son combos – the dads are in their 40s and the kids are 17 or 18,” Tuala said. “And I don’t know how may brothers and cousins we have. We’re many families within our one rugby family, and I can honestly say I’ve never had this much fun in my life.”
    The rugby team was the idea of Koleta Sao, who works at South Pacific Imports on Noland Road in Independence.
    “She knew all the island guys, and she knew we were looking for some kind of sports activity,” Tuala said of Sao. “She called me, and I made a few calls and before you know it, we’re meeting at her business and trying to find ways to get jerseys and some sponsors and join the Heart Of America (Rugby Football Union).”
    The first-year team finished with a 9-1 mark its first season and traveled to Wichita and Topeka, Kan., and Arkansas.
    “Our only loss was to Wichita, so we finished second in conference,” Tuala said. “But we got our revenge when we beat Wichita in the Western Regional Championship in Omaha, Neb.”
    That win punched the Islanders’ ticket to the USA Rugby Club National Championships in Irving, Texas, where the local squad reached the quarterfinals of the Men’s Division III tournament. The Islanders defeated New Mexico Highlands 47-7 in the Round of 16 before falling 32-22 to Belmont Shore D3 of Long Beach, Calif., in the quarterfinals on May 19.
    “We just wanted to play and have some fun,” said Tuala, the team’s vice president. “I wound up losing 40 pounds – I’ve never felt better in my life – and we had a lot more success than we ever dreamed of. Now, we’re meeting to make some preparations for next season.”
    The Heart Of America season begins in late 2013 and will end in 2014. The team features 15 players on the field, with the object of getting a ball – without any forward passing – into the trizone for a score. Players do not wear pads or helmets.
    “We want to get active in the community and get some high school and college kids involved rugby,” Tuala said. “You don’t have to know anything about the sport – we’ll teach you. After one practice this past season we all knew pretty much what was going on.
    Page 2 of 2 - “And we can’t promise you a championship, but we can promise you some great workouts and a lot of fun.”
    For more information on the team, look up Kansas City Islanders on Facebook or call 816-529-2499.
    Follow Bill Althaus on Twitter: @AlthausEJC

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