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Rugby Is Not Just Your Average Sport

Toby Malone and his student and first year player on the women’s rugby team Kiersten Mickle.

From Australia to America, Toby Malone has traveled across the world, over nine thousand miles, and brought his passion for rugby with him.

After completing an international exchange program at Queens University in Kingston Ontario, Canada where he met his wife he moved to Toronto to start a new life as an actor.

He soon decided that although he loved acting he was better suited to be an academic, which brought him to SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York.

SUNY Oswego has both a men’s and a women’s rugby club who were fairly strong but were in need of a mentor.

Nobody else could provide the experience needed to help the teams because “no one’s been playing since elementary school because little kids rugby doesn’t really exist in the U.S.,” Malone said.

“He just has an insane amount of experience. He’s been playing his entire life so we’ve never had someone that has that level of experience and has the knowledge that we could never have,” said Sabrina Shortall, senior marketing major and president of the women’s rugby club.

“No one really has that connection to rugby so me coming here and really loving rugby and wanting to get involved meant that they really welcomed me being their advisor and also welcomed me to join them at practices so I go to practices and help them as a kind of coach,” Malone said.

He started playing rugby when he was only five years old because his father was a rugby player.

“He played it all the way through his youth and then after I was born. I was born on the west coast where rugby is not as popular, but because my dad played and watched it I grew up loving it too and played it to have something to connect to him,” Malone said.

But this connection to his father is not the only connection rugby has brought him. He has a very strong bond with many of the players on the team.

“I got really close with him because I am the president so I work with him a lot. He’s great, we joke and say he’s like everyone’s dad,” Shortall said.

Kiersten Mickle, junior dramaturgy major and first year player on the rugby team said Malone encouraged her to join as he is also her advisor for her major.

“Toby is so understanding and I trust him 100 percent. He said, ‘you might be good at this’ and I said ‘alright,’ Mickle said, “I definitely thought about it but I probably would have never actually done it.”

There are players on the Oswego rugby team from all over the place, with all different backgrounds and of all different shapes and sizes, Malone said.

“It doesn’t matter what your actual athletic ability is, it doesn’t matter what your size is, your speed is, or having any experience before. You can find a position and one that works for you,” Shortall said.

Those players who in other sports may not get much of an opportunity, in rugby, their strength is valued,” Malone said.

For many of those players Malone has helped with a sense of inclusiveness, making every player on the team feel they have value.

“He’s right in there practicing with us. He wouldn’t make us do something he wouldn’t do. He makes us all feel very safe,” Mickle said.

“It’s definitely a different type of sport than any other sport and we are very much more like a family than just a sports team. You can be very aggressive and very competitive but at the end of the day you are not competing for playing time and its nothing like that,” Shortall said.

“There are a lot of advisors with clubs that are very hands off”, Mickle said, “but Toby is very hands-on with both boys and girls. He practices with both teams, he’s always there if you have a question and he’s always willing to answer it. I think people do definitely look up to him.”

Malone has an incredible passion for teaching as well as rugby that inspire both his students and the players.

“He can kind of see someone and say, ‘well I see you are struggling in this, can I help you work at this?’” Shortall said.

Sometimes he even stays after practice to help students who want to improve their skills one-on-one even though afterwards he may have to travel almost 300 miles home that night to his family in Toronto.

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