Lions Awards Banquet 2019

Lions Awards Banquet 2019

The Lions celebrated our 55th Anniversary last Saturday night, February 23rd with over 120 players, alumni and supporters in attendance. We honored our past, celebrated our present and we look forward to our future. Tony Rio was awarded the prestigious Lowry Lion (see full recipient list).

Thank you Tony for your dedication to the Lions.

We would like to thank our team sponsors – Athletico and Mark Kaufman, Fresh Wave and CPH. We would like to thank So-G, which is Tony Rio and Bo Gray, for sponsoring the cocktail hour. Larry Zeno and Jim Kearney for each sponsoring half a players table and Pat Bolger for sponsoring some of the high school players.

We had five past presidents, six past captains, and eight Lowry Lions in attendance as well as numerous alumni who have donated to the Lions for Hope Complex and the Lions Den recurring donation program.

2019 banquet women

We celebrated our teams’ successes. Last spring, our men’s D1 team made it to the Elite 8, they won their division in the Midwest in the fall and participated in a tightly fought game in the first ever Elite Cup. Our second team moved up to D2 and we increased the size of our depth chart.

On the women’s side, our 7’s team made it to Nationals and we began our women’s 15’s team this past fall. The women were like the original Lions 55 years ago where they had a dream of building their own team. They took a leap of faith and joined us. 14 women played in our first game up in Minneapolis and won.

With the hiring of Andy Rose as Director of youth rugby almost a year ago, we began our youth program. We fielded our first sevens side and hosted our first youth 7’s tournament. In the fall, we fielded our first ever Lions high school team and Andy has made inroads in some of the local schools.

We recognized all our coaches, our Athletico staff, Dr. Levin, and all our volunteers who have all contributed to the success of the Chicago Lions. Without them, none of this would have been possible.

Lastly, we have begun construction on our first field which we project to be ready by June. We still need some funds to complete this phase. Once this field is built, we will begin the major capital campaign for the building and second field

Congratulations to the 2018 Chicago Lions Player award winners!

  • 15s Player of the Year: Men: Andy Rose / Women: Brittany O’Dell
  • 15s New Lion: Men: Joe Van Zyl / Women: Rachel Grecky
  • 15s Most Improved: Men: Jeffery Steele / Women: Jennifer Kelliher
  • 15s Coaches Award: Men: Frikkie DeBeer / Women: Kelley Hirt
  • Men’s 7s Player of the Year: Alex Dorrier
  • Women’s 7s Player of the Year: Meg Loomis
  • Lame Lions: Frikkie DeBeer and Susan Riggs
High School 7s Report

High School 7s Report

On Sunday, June 24th, we hosted the first ever Chicago Lions High School 7s Tournament and fielded a Chicago Lions High School 7s team; it was a great day in the history of the Club.

There were seven teams that played and we lost to the Naperville Warriors that had Steve Taft as the assistant coach. Three of the seven teams there were coached by current or former Lions players.

We would like to thank the Lions players that volunteered to help for the day. Andy Rose, our Director of Youth Rugby, deserves special thanks for organizing the successful event where we received numerous compliments from the Chicagoland rugby community. Andy will be getting married this weekend and we wish him the best of luck!

From Paul Bergman, Head Coach, Arlington Stallions Rugby Club and Lions Alum:

“Jeff, a huge THANK YOU to Andy and the entire Lions staff who put on yesterday’s tournament.  It was carried out with the high standards which the club has applied to all its endeavors.  It is the Stallions’ hope that this event will become a regular part of the High School Olympic Rugby schedule within Rugby Illinois.”

From Steve Taft, Assistant Coach, Naperville Warriors and Lions Alum:

“Jeff, I wanted to pass on what a great job that Andy Rose and his team did for setting up and hosting the high school sevens tournament on Sunday. I thought the pace with regards to getting as many matches in one day while making sure the kids had plenty of rest without too much delay was perfect. I think is was also great for the Lions to host since in years past, most of the high school sevens has been hosted by the Blaze. I can only see this tournament grow from here.”

From David Hall, VP Rugby Development, Rugby Illinois and Lions Alum/Past President:

“Jeff: Thank you for the Chicago Lions organizing the 7s tournament for the HS teams yesterday.  It was a quality event and well run.”


Interview with Patrick O’Reilly

Interview with Patrick O’Reilly

By Matt Wagner

Last week, as the Lions were preparing for a regular-season test against Metropolis in Minneapolis, I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Patrick O’Reilly during the team’s training session. We talked about his time playing rugby and being a member of the club. I recall my first encounter with Patrick, early in my first season with the Lions. It was apparent to me from the start that this was a guy who cared very much about this club and the players. Over my tenure here (since 2012) Patrick has been involved in a huge way, and I believe he is one of the big reasons that we’ve earned the successes we have over that time, and before.

Prior to his departure, I wanted to pick his brain about some of the general aspects of the Chicago Lions. Joined during the interview by Lions club President Jeff Simon, the following is our discussion:

Wagner: When did you first start playing rugby?
O’Reilly: “Believe it or not, it was 1987. It was in Duluth, Minnesota… it was cold. I played wing and had no idea what I was doing. They threw me the ball and I went down the sideline and the snow was about knee deep so I had to high-step it the whole way. I scored and the worst part was they made me do a Zulu. And they let me keep my socks on.”
Patrick then went on to play at St. Cloud State, and after that for Metropolis in Minneapolis for three or four years. He then moved to South Bend, Indiana and played for South Bend (now called Michiana).

Wagner: How did you start playing rugby with the Chicago Lions?
O’Reilly: “(In South Bend) I got know a guy by the name of Adam Miller who moved here and… I knew I wanted to be in Chicago. And when I moved here for work he asked if I wanted to play. Everyone knew who the Lions were and I said I’d give it a go. That was in 2000, that was when I started running around with the Lions. I only played one Super League game the whole time, and I didn’t start. We were very desperate. We had three different teams. We practiced at that park off of Irving (Revere Park) and we’d have a million guys out there. I played scrumhalf.”

Wagner: What is your greatest Lions on-field playing moment?
O’Reilly: “Probably those two seconds I stepped on the field for Super League (laughs). I was pretty geeked. I remember the training before we went to Belmont (Shore) in 2007 (for the Super League Final), that was insane. I remember, pretty vividly, when we played Team USA before they played England ‘A’ or someone. And we did really, really well against them. I mean they beat us, but we held our own for a long time. My favorite part of the years is LVI (the Las Vegas 7s Invitational, which the Lions won in 2010 and 2017). My second favorite is going to (7s) Nationals, just because of the environment.

“One of the coolest things I think I was a part of was the loss to Belmont in the 7s Final in San Fran (in 2012). The crowd was big, we had a lot of Lions Alumni. We had just beaten Seattle and that was something, because they were favored. And not just against us, they were favored (to win the tournament). Just the passion that… I’ve never seen guys give as much as they did on the field in that game, it was amazing. And we lost to a better team. It was a good, good game.”

Wagner: What is your greatest Lions off-field memory?
O’Reilly: “Off-field, just, I don’t know. I like the (player/alumni) weddings, just because we all get together. When you do the weddings, or when you do the banquet-type stuff, it seems to transcend the generations. You’ve got rookies that are 18 year-olds hanging out with a 50 year-old guy they’ve never met, just because they’ve got a Lions pin on. It’s just that shared experience that, unless you do it, you just don’t get it.”

Wagner: One of the things I want to talk a little about is your relationship with Keith Brown and his time here with the club. He set some of the principles that we are really taking and running with now as a club.
“Keith’s biggest thing was his passion. And Lisa, too. Lisa was more than just support, she was involved. And she knew how much time Keith took to do this. He liked being around (the club) and his deal was organization. When the Super League took over, he tried to eliminate as much as he could of the burden of players to do anything but train and play. Keith Brown was in the hospital and he asked me (to fill the role as President). When Keith was President, I was playing, but it was more doing like I do now. I was always involved off the field. I just like doing this because it helps everything run more smoothly.”

Simon: What would you say would be the biggest change you’ve seen since you started?
O’Reilly: “The level of play. The seriousness (with which) guys take it. (People) don’t understand the amount of time that these guys put into it. They’ll train a minimum (of) six days a week when we get to this level. The 7s guys go seven days a week because there’s a workout that’s required, that’s checked. There’s fitness tests. And even on Sunday when you get back (from a tournament), there’s a recovery session, there’s yoga. From when I started, I mean, I saw guys smoking at half time! The level of coaching. I mean look, we’re sitting here at a lit turf field. Look at the difference just in this organization.

“When I started we were training at Revere Park. It was basically some guy, more or less, with a candle (referring to the poor lighting at the park). And the field was… it was softer to play out in the street. But you had a lot of guys, a lot of passion. But now, we have a lit turf field, there’s, I don’t know, five coaches here. We get a trainer here. There’s film beforehand. They get film clips emailed to them. You’ve got bibs, and top of the line equipment. The partnership with Hope (Academy)… and Bob (Muzikowski)’s done a good job expanding that. The unspoken hero at Hope is Kevin (Drewyer). He’s part of getting the rugby program going. (Pat) Bolger stepped up (to coach Hope)… and they won a state championship.”

Wagner: Where would you like to see the club continue to go?
O’Reilly: “National championship. Two. And in order for that to happen, there needs to be support. I think the field is a big deal but I think the more we win, the more we’ll have support from Lions Old Boys. Involving the community more. One of the things I’ve always tried to do is be nice to everybody. And it helps. Be it the Griffins, the Riot, Metro. When we were going up to (7s) Nationals (in Minneapolis), for example, this year. Once we made it, Metro called us and said ‘You guys can use our field for free to train on’. We can have a swagger, you know, (but) there’s a difference between confidence and cocky. It’s building a culture, not only of winning, but a club culture. It’s an attitude that Aaron (Manheimer) instilled in his people that I’d like to see back. And it was ‘in my head, I figure nobody is going to do it, so I have to do it’. If we had all these guys that thought like that, and it is changing. The club was here before me, and it will be here long after me, and that’s got to be the mentality. And if (the players) can see it from me, hopefully that carries over. And it seems to, a little bit.

Wagner: What would your advice be to a new guy coming in to the organization?
O’Reilly: “Keep an open mind. You’re not as good as you think you are, you’re here to get better. No matter how good you are, you’re not going to be fifteen (players). You’ve got to become part of the team, the team does not have to become part of you. Once you know your role and you can play it, you’re not going to find a better bunch. When these guys fit in, which it doesn’t take much, or long, they’ll have your back for anything. And it goes across generations. And that’s also what we’re trying to build more of.”

Ever the club-man, I cannot say I was surprised by his responses. After all, for the last half-decade, these are principles that I have witnessed him both preach and practice. His love and care for the players means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to the scores of teammates I have been blessed to know, play, and train with. Patrick is the kind of guy that, if it was within his power, he would do absolutely anything for you if you needed it, and never think twice about it. He has been a shining example of what it means to be a Chicago Lion. To carry yourself with honor and integrity, to train and play as hard as possible, and to never put yourself before the club.

Patrick and his family (Lisa, young Callan, and the fourth O’Reilly on the way!) will be missed dearly in Chicago and by the club. His presence has been a massive one, and his boots will be very hard to fill by his successor.

Patrick, words cannot accurately express the gratitude I have for your service to this organization. As long as I am here, I know I will do my best to pick up the torch you’ve carried for almost a generation and continue moving forward. I know there are dozens of my teammates and current club members who, because of your example, and because of what the Lions mean to them, will do the same.

Thank you.

Youth Development Day 2017

Youth Development Day 2017

Click/tap above image to see larger.

One Saturday in September 2017 marked a historic day for the Chicago Lions.

We hosted our first Youth Development Day and live-streamed our home game against Cincinnati. You should be proud of your Chicago Lions for how we presented ourselves to the Chicago rugby community. There was a:

  • High school game
  • Youth clinics
  • A youth game

The high school game featured two teams—Arlington Stallions and Chicago Wapiti—who are coached or led by Lions (Paul Bergman, Vinnie LaPiana, Roy Hays, and Mike Palmer). We had over 100 kids at our field with numerous parents in attendance. For their participation the kids were fed hot dogs and chips, which was greatly appreciated.

Dave Clancy and Andrew Rose led and coordinated the Youth Development Day with Tristan Lewis leading the off-field duties. They put in a ton of work and the day ran like clockwork. We had several of our top players and many North Shore Women RFC assist with the drills and numerous other players helping with the set-up, take-down, concessions and parking. It was a total club effort and we had numerous alumni there all willing to step in and help.

We received compliments from many people and gave us confidence that this is just the beginning of future youth development days and we look forward to hosting one for the local community. The Lions continue to step up our game on and off the field and we really look forward to having the alumni more engaged and supporting their Chicago Lions.

Thank You

A special thanks to Dave Clancy, Andrew Rose, Tristan Lewis, Tony Rio, Patrick O’Reilly, Brittany O’Dell, Janet Kean (president of the Chiefs Youth Program), North Shore Women players and our Lions players for making the day a huge success.

Grey Lions at 50th Aspen Ruggerfest

Grey Lions at 50th Aspen Ruggerfest

Above: Chicago Lions Rugby group (click to enlarge)

The Chicago Grey Lions played in Aspen for the 50th Ruggerfest with a strong contingent of players and supporters totaling almost 75. Fortunately or unfortunately, we had more supporters than players. It was a beautiful weekend and we played our only two games on Friday. We started with close to 25-30 players for the first game at 9 a.m. against the Virginia Cardinals who normally travel with 45-50 players. Despite the early start, we played hard but gave a few long tries away and could not score ourselves. Players were dropping quickly and fortunately, we had Mark Kaufman and Paul Hadden of AthletiCo there to fix the injured… just like old times. However, we lost the game 0-17.

Playing in Aspen

Playing in Aspen

By the time the second game started at noon on the main pitch, we were down to about 18 players but picked up a few others. We played Mosman Rugby Club from Sydney, Australia, spending much of the game in their end with some high quality tactical kicking from hand and even took an early 3-0 lead on a Phil Olson penalty kick. We played much better in this game but still could not find the try zone and lost 3-15. In both games, all the guys played hard and earned the respect of the opposition. We had players from the following clubs besides the Lions; Milwaukee, South Side Irish, Louisville, Chicago Blaze. Thank you to those guys.

Paul Hadden and Mark Kaufman

Paul Hadden and Mark Kaufman of AthletiCo

Bill Marshall and Paul MycroftWhile some of us did go to play rugby, the majority went to enjoy the beauty of Aspen and spend time with old friends from all over the world. The Red Ski House was the Lions’ base with about a third of the people staying there. On Friday night, we had a team party with over 75 people. A special thanks goes to Mark Kaufman for funding this event and to Pat Bolger and David Skidmore for organizing. It was a great time with numerous past Lions Presidents in attendance.

Normally, Saturday is a rugby day but for us, it was a touring day with watching rugby, hiking, fishing, biking… and sampling the local beer. The day ended with a happy hour hosted by Paul Hadden, Tony Rio and Billy Marshall before people went out to dinner and more partying.

My last special thanks goes to Mark Sawicki and Mike Palmer for organizing the trip and rallying everyone. Mark did the recruiting of players and led us on the field. It was great to see Mark “ready to go to war” again, summoning his US Eagle playing days. Mike made sure we had plenty of water (and oxygen) and played hard as well.

As President of the Lions, it made me very proud to be a Lion this past weekend. The friendships and camaraderie that we established years ago are still strong across generations.

The pride of the Lions was on display all weekend and hopefully, rekindled everyone’s connection to the club. We have a great group of alumni and we all can be proud of the current coaching staff and players for continuing on with the tradition of all being Chicago Lions.

~ Jeff Simon

Jeff Simon

“A big thank you to the Lions!! Truly a great American rugby club made up of so many incredible personalities.” (Pat J)

Men and Women – National 7s 2017

Men and Women – National 7s 2017

The Lions men’s and women’s 7s sides travelled to Blaine, Minnesota, to compete at the USA Club 7s Nationals.

The teams spent Friday touring the facility before having a team dinner together where former South African 7s Legend Frankie Horne spoke to the group about winning before head coaches David Fee and Jeremy Nash presented their players with their jerseys on what was a a great night for the club.

Day 1:

Saturday saw the teams get down to the business of winning games and attempting to qualify for the knock-out rounds on day 2. Both teams got off to strong starts winning their first games. We will start with the women.

The women came out hot and showed no signs of nerves by beating Philadelphia 36-5 in a fantastic first game performance. Tries were scores by Dash (x2), Kish, Devon, Jess and Creek.

They then went on to play a very strong team in New York Rugby club who ended up the weekend in 3rd overall. It was a closely contested game for the most part with tries from Dash and Creek keeping the Lions in contention, however breakaway tries from the New York side saw them run out to an eventual 26-10 win and the Lions knowing they needed to win their last pool game to qualify for the quarters.

And they did just that, they came out firing against Austin Valkyries with a 24-5 win that was never in doubt and arguably one of their best performances of the weekend. Tries in that game came from captain Kish (x2) Devon and Gabby. And with that the women qualified for the quarter finals on their return to the competition having not made it last year.

Meanwhile the men were having a good day in the warmth and sun of Blaine.

The men kicked off the tournament with a white wash of Optimus from Atlanta, a scoreline which would late prove vital to seeding out of the pool on points difference. Tries from Eddie Bluemel, Matt Wagner and JP (x2) lead us to a 26-0 win.

Next up was the #2 seed from SoCal, Santa Monica. The men backed up the first result in what was a hugely physical game with tries from Jack, Eddie and Wagner rounding out a 15-10 win.

The last pool game of the day had the Lions play one of the tournament favorites in Life West from San Fransisco in what would prove to be a heated affair. The game saw the Lions take a 12-0, during which time there were two yellow cards, one for Life and one for Michael Ziegler in a contentious incident which saw him protecting his teammate after the scoring of a try, only to see yellow and make it 6 vs. 6 with a minute to the half. Life made the most of the short numbers and scored just before the half to make a game of it second half. Life came out a new team in the second half and despite the Lions best efforts they were not able to increase their lead. Life finally got possession back and in the dying seconds managed to punch in what would prove to be the winning try.

As it turned out the Lions would still go through first seed on points difference with three teams in the pool finishing with a 2-1 record.

It was time for the men’s and women’s teams to head back to the accommodation and focus on recovery and video review ahead of Sunday morning quarters against Belmont Shore and Life West respectively.

Coach Fee commented:

“We showed very strong moments. An opening tournament shutout win was a great way to start the day, and we looked real strong for the opening moments vs LIFE West in our last pool play game, and then again on day 2 to close out the day with a strong 26-5 win.”

Day 2:

The women were first to take to the field on day 2, cheered on by a growing contingent of Lions supporters who had made the trip including teammates, parents and club president Jeff Simon. This was truly special to have our own pocket of supporters in the stand for every game and something all the players are really grateful for.

The women went up against current 15s national champions Life West in what were difficult conditions with rain coming in over the Blaine Complex. Tries from Brittany “Chip” O’Dell and Kish kept it close but handling and defensive errors gave Life West possession for large parts of the game and they showed their quality in finishing victorious with a score of 12-22. The women will be proud in the knowledge that on a different day with a few less errors that this was a game they could have take and that they are not far off where they need to be to beat the top teams in the country.

The women got an unlucky break after that as a shock result saw the ARPTC academy also knocked out in the quarters and scheduled to play the women Lions. The women went 7-0 up through a try and conversion form Chip and looked in a great position moving forward. A try from ARPTC saw teammates Kish and Dash collide and saw Dash removed from the field after a length spell of treatment from Athletico Physio Ryan Jarema. This was a big loss for the women and a shock to all to see a player go off with a head injury. Thankfully Dash was okay. The women lost 7-26 in a game that ran away form them after that.

The women found themselves playing for 7s against NOVA. They were determined to go out on a high against what has historically been a strong women’s 7s side. The women had a reshuffle of the starting team and came out with an inspiring 33-10 victory to finish the day on a high and do the club extremely proud.

The Lions were one of only two clubs in the country to have both their men and women qualify for nationals and now we had both teams rank in the top 8 in the country to follow up both winning the Midwest championship in what has been a tremendous year for the club.

Jeremy has done a remarkable job in getting the women to where they are today and the future is very bright for this women’s program. Watch this space! Captain Sarah Kish said:

“I’m very excited about our finish. We had a few tough losses to good teams, but showed great resilience in coming back with a strong win to take 7th place. It was the first time on a National stage for several players, and I think we sent a message about the future of this program. We grew as a team and a program over the weekend, and expect to return next year to fight for the national championship.”

Men’s Quarter Final

On the men’s side, a quarter final against a big Belmont side awaited our men. Belmont lead the country in nationals appearances and victories but looked like a team that we should beat having watched them stutter on day one.

It was a case of a perfect storm for the Lions where things just didn’t go right all game. Decisions went against us and ultimately we never got into our pattern. The game went down to the final seconds with tries coming from Brady and Jordan but it was Belmont who edged it 14-17.

The men went on to lose 12-14 in the final seconds against Old Blue when Luke Hume tapped and went quickly off a penalty to score under the posts after the Lions having led throughout. Scores came from Jordan and Luke. This set-up a rematch against Life West to round out the day. Coach Fee had the following to saw:

“Two missed tackles was the difference in the Old Blue match.

“Hopefully our guys learn from this, and the hunger, that frustration builds us to be stronger next year. It was a great summer, great combination of guys, we just fell a little short.”

The boys did pull together and show their potential to finish in style though with a thumping victory over Life West, payback for the result the day before. Tries from Feakes, Brady, Casey and JP handed the Lions a 26-5 win to round out the tournament placed in 7th.

Fee went on to remark on some departing personnel:

“I feel for the guys, and for Eddie Bluemel who is off to retirement… I wish we could have sent him off on a higher note. His calmness and approach to the game will be missed.

“The biggest loss though will be in Manager Patrick O’Reilly, who will be dearly missed. He allowed the coaches to focus on coaching, and the players to focus on playing. Those shoes will be tough to fill.”

Thank You

Dave ClancyThe players, coaches and management would like to thank everyone from the club for their support all summer. While narrow losses are hard to take, we will look back in a year which saw the Lions win 3 Midwest championships. Men’s 15s and 7s, along with women’s 7s, makes a statement as a club with some huge results at a national level that this is a club on the rise and one heading towards the very top. This is just the start of what is going to be a journey toward being the number one club in the country.

Thank you to all to all the sponsors and GoFundMe donations which made the travel and logistics possible, your ongoing support is truly appreciated and not taken for granted.

Lastly from me, a big thank you to our two fantastic head coaches in David Fee and Jeremy Nash, we are so fortunate to have two coaches of your calibre leading our 7s programs. To Patrick and Tator for managing the teams all summer, a tireless job which deserves huge credit, we thank you. To our captains, Matt Wagner and Sarah Kish, for leading from the front all summer and sending such high standards for the players on and off the field. To Tom Argy for supporting our men and women all summer with video analysis and lastly, Ryan Jarema, who was run off his feet all summer treating up to 4 teams at a time on any given weekend.

We are so fortunate to have such a great support staff as a club and I am excited to keep moving forward with what is now a very tight knit family.

~ Coach Dave Clancy

Men’s 7s

Women’s 7s

Lions selected as Collegiate All-Americans

Lions selected as Collegiate All-Americans

Congratulations to the 7 Lions players who were acknowledged by USA Rugby as collegiate All-Americans yesterday. Well done to:

  • Nick Feakes (Lindenwood University)
  • Tyler Sousley (Indiana University)
  • Brady Gent (Davenport University)
  • Alex Dorrier (Indiana University)
  • Thomas Kacor (Western Michigan University)
  • Jack Casey (University of Arkansas)
  • Jake Hidalgo (Indiana University)

Feakes and Sousley were acknowledged for both 7s and 15s, Dorrier and Casey gained recognition for their 7s exploits, while Kacor and Brady excelled in 15s.

We are extremely fortunate to have this group of talented young men coming through the ranks and are excited to see their development with the Lions over the years to come.