Tyke Nollman Inducted to Hall of fame

Tyke NollmanWe congratulate one of the great Lions, J Tyke Nollman, on his post-humous induction into the USA Rugby Hall of Fame.

Tyke would have been very honored and humbled to be recognized. He was a great leader and served as Lions President for six years in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He was the Lowry Lion recipient in 1973.

In one of his last roles, Tyke led the Chicago Lions capital campaign to acquire the land where our new facility will sit. We look forward to this summer to the opening the J Tyke Nollman Field in his honor.

Jay “Tyke” Nollman was a catalyst for the development of rugby in the United States for nearly forty years. Nollman played football for the Northwestern University Wildcats from 1962-1966, prior to beginning his long rugby career with the Chicago Lions Rugby Football Club in 1969. He changed the game of rugby in the United States by establishing the inaugural USA Rugby Inter-Territorial Tournament (ITTs) and developed rugby’s national presence through the incorporation of business sponsorships and marketing strategies. Nollman was an active administrator in the rugby world and championed many philanthropic endeavors, including youth rugby in the State of Illinois. [source]

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.

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.

Jay “Tyke” Nollman Memorial Fields

Jay “Tyke” Nollman Memorial Fields

Tyke NollmanIn April, a group of Chicago Lions attended a dedication ceremony at LaSalette Academy in Georgetown, Illinois. The ceremony marked the official dedication of the Jay “Tyke” Nollman Memorial Fields. The day’s event was capped off with an unveiling of the monument, flag raising ceremony and a number of speeches.

Tyke became involved with the Lions from LaSalette seven years ago. This school of 80 students are currently playing in the first division of Rugby Illinois and have been quite successful. The two main playing fields and one practice field all are regulation dimensions with 55 foot goal posts on each pitch. It was quite a setting, the rain and wind cancelled the game scheduled to play the Arlington Stallions, Paul Bergman’s and Vinnie LaPiana’s club.

The generosity of Tyke and his wife, Jane, are being felt in the rugby community not only here in Chicago, but downstate at this high school as well. We are proud to count Tyke as an alum of the club and wish nothing but the best to the La Salette rugby team!

A total of 14 Chicago Lions Old Boys attended the ceremony, it was noted that the significance of the 14 former players joining together to celebrate a great day with Jane and relatives.

The Chicago Lions presented LaSalette the Chicago Lion which has been given on 61 other occasions to foreign side team both at home and away. The LaSalette Lions were invited to play a curtain raiser once the Chicago Lions unveil their new Fields.

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Nollman fields

Fourteen Chicago Lions were present, one space was left for Tyke.

On Saturday, April 29th, the Notre Dame de La Sallete Boys Academy in Georgetown, IL, dedicated their rugby pitch in honor of our late great friend, J. Tyke Nollman. I was part of a large contingent who headed downstate to commemorate this event.

Tyke was a stalwart, standup, ambassador of our great club, The Chicago Lions RFC. He dedicated his life to our success both on and off the pitch. He served as President of the Lions back in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s. In fact, he was at the helm when I first put the black jersey on. His attitude and professionalism embodies and permeates the club to this day. He is someone I will never forget!

Cheers to you, my friend.

Ray Karenas

Chicago Lion

Keith Brown: One of a Kind, and One of Our Own

Keith and Lisa BrownKeith J. Brown passed away peacefully on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 after a battle with Melanoma skin cancer. He was Executive Vice President at Klaff Realty, LP, a private Chicago-based real estate investment firm that specializes in the acquisition of distressed commercial property on a national scale. He was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 18, 1950 and is survived by his wife, Lisa Quinn, and two sons, Colin and Brendan. He also leaves behind a Black Army…

Keith was President of the Chicago Lions Rugby Club and a board member of the USA Rugby Foundation. Keith had served as President for five years, until this past August when he stepped down. He was instrumental in realigning the Lions when he first became involved as part of the building committee in 2005. At this time the Lions had assets in both the School Street Clubhouse and the North Park Tap. He spearheaded the group to consolidate and sell both using the proceeds to purchase an income producing six flat building on Chicago’s Northwest side. The rental units provide a steady income for the Lions as well as providing lodging for newly transplanted players to get their feet on the ground.

Keith was also the leader in securing the present playing pitch and clubhouse at our Lions for Hope Field in conjunction with The Hope Academy. His work with Hope Academy was monumental. I will be submitting a proposal to the Lions Executive Committee to rename the grounds Keith Brown Hope Memorial Field.

~ Ray Karenas

If one could describe Keith in a word, for me it would be “passionate.” As a true lover of life and all of its offerings, Keith made the most of the time given to him on this Earth. One look at his resumé would drop your jaw, his wit would make you smile, and his advice and guidance would inspire you. Yet, as the President of a rugby club, you knew he could throw back a beer or two and just be one of the boys, as well. The influence that Keith has had on rugby in the U.S.A. is immeasurable, and as a leader of lions, a mentor, a friend, a father and loving husband, Keith Brown will truly be missed. Here’s to Keith. – Matt Priest

Keith Brown

To Keith’s Family –

Dear Browns,

It is quite likely that by the time you read this, you will have already heard everything I am going to say about Keith from the thousands of people aside from myself that he brought so much joy and levels of friendship to throughout his astounding life. It is also quite likely that as family members you knew these characteristics far better, deeper, and more intimately than anyone else who is now recalling them with such clarity and heavy hearts in his recent passing. Despite the fact that very little of what you are going to read will be new to you or surprising in any way, shape, or form, the words still need to be expressed to let you know how cherished Keith was to those who were able to spend even small amounts of time with him, but especially to those who were privileged enough to call him a mentor and friend during the time we were able to share together.

Perhaps more than any sport in the world, rugby brings an exceptionally eclectic group of men and women together to share their passion for the game and the pride in which they have for it. The rich and the poor, the young and the old, the seasoned and the novice – you will find every single one of these people and then some within every active rugby club throughout the world. And while the goals and passion for the game may be a shared commodity within a club, those two assets alone do not ensure there will be the type of teamwork, camaraderie, and mutual respect amongst the group necessary in order to create the kind of resounding success we all strive for in playing this beautiful game. In order for true success to be achieved and in order for a club to become more than merely the sum of its numerous and distinctive parts in constant motion you need a leader to unite each faction of the machine and teach them to play and be as one, both on and off the pitch…someone to teach the club how to become a real part of each other…someone to show what it means to care, to look out for, to enjoy, and to respect what each piece of the machine – no matter the shape, size, background, or perceived capabilities – contributes to the overall success and livelihood that can be attributed to the club for all its days to come.

Nobody with even the smallest knowledge of the Chicago Lions ever questioned who that person was within our club. Everyone knew who our leader was, who our visionary was, who our captain was in times of calm, in times of celebration, and times of choppy waters alike. The instant you met Keith Brown you knew you were in the presence of someone who’s vision and passion for the club and life itself was exceeded only by the reward he felt in bringing such care and friendship to each individual he encountered along the way. The moment you met him, you knew you were in the presence of a great man who had acquired knowledge of the lessons we all strive to pry from life’s handbook throughout our own journeys, and someone who was happy to share whatever he could to make you and the group you were a part of infinitely better than you could ever have been without him.

Keith had the unique and unmatched ability to make every single person in a room feel genuinely welcome to a group; to feel a part of something; to feel as though he was in fact someone who cared about what you brought to the table and someone who wanted to help you make the most of those talents, ideas, and qualities that make up the fabric of who you were. Keith was a unifier in every sense of the word; someone who was able to bring people from every walk of life together and seamlessly begin the transition from stranger to friend in the most heartfelt and sincere manner I have come to know.

Think for a moment about how many different people counted Keith as one of their closest and most cherished friends they had in their lives…think about how many people in Chicago and throughout the world honestly felt as though Keith was the person in their life that they admired most and held in the highest regard. Think again about how remarkable it is that one individual person was make so many people feel as though he was their rock, their mate, their partner, their buddy, their confidant, their voice of reason, their friend in every meaning the word has to offer. What I am describing is no small feat and should not be disregarded or understated. Achieving something like this in one’s life can only be accomplished by a person who values others over himself, someone whose empathy and compassion removes all room in his heart for greed and selfish desires; and the most difficult of all – someone who is able to put the good intentions he has stirring within his thoughts and his soul into real, tangible action in his every day life…

We are all extremely saddened by Keith’s passing. There’s simply no way to avoid that feeling, and no way to assuage the melancholy we have in thinking about the time spent with such a magnificent man who meant the world to the Chicago Lions and all those he came in contact with throughout his life. That said, in addition to that sadness we undoubtedly will feel for a very long time to come, so too are we inspired to live our own lives in his honor and take on those lessons he taught us about cherishing each individual that is already a part of our lives and those we will meet in the days and years to come as we continue on…about making the most of your abilities and talents professionally, socially, and domestically…and about taking the time to enjoy the life that you have with those you love whenever the opportunity presents itself – just as Keith did.

We’re all going to like this world a little less without Keith in it, and we are all better from simply knowing him. Cheers, to the best Lion I’ve ever known…and one of the best men I’ve had the pleasure to meet and learn from in this lifetime.

With love and respect,
Dennis O’Donnell

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