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Published: Wednesday, 10/22/2008

Celtics Rugby Club has 6-0 season, makes playoffs

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ian Robertson wraps an arm around Jonas Kloos during a practice last week. The team plays home games at Sterling Park. Ian Robertson wraps an arm around Jonas Kloos during a practice last week. The team plays home games at Sterling Park.
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The Toledo Celtics Rugby Club this fall has put together one of the finest seasons in the 34-year history of the organization.

The local rugby team, which has about 60 players, recently won a regular-season league title with a 6-0 record. The club, which was founded in 1974, has members from throughout southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio.

"We had a perfect regular season," said Jeremy Mantei, the Celtics' coach. "We recently had an influx of bodies and now we have a lot of depth."

The Toledo Celtics team is sanctioned by USA Rugby and is a member of the Midwest Rugby Union. The Celtics compete in the league's Division II, which has 20 teams throughout the Midwest.

Rugby, which is the forerunner of American football, is a sport in which two teams carry, pass, or kick a ball to score points. The full-contact sport includes tackling and scrums.

Mantei said about half of the club members played the sport in college.

For many years the Toledo team competed in the lower Division III. But the Celtics were bumped up after they finished third in the nation in 2006.

The coach said the team struggled in its first year in the higher division.

"We took some lumps and learned some things," Mantei said. "We were the new guys on the block."

Mantei, who lives in Monroe, said this season his team has added some players from foreign countries and students from the University of Toledo.

"The young guys were quick learners," he said.

Toledo outscored its foes 195-101 this fall.

But although the Celtics went undefeated, all of the team's games were close until the season finale. The Celtics destroyed the Grand Rapids Gazelles 62-13 at home Oct. 11.

"In the season finale we put it all together on the field," Mantei said.

With the decisive win, Toledo secured a playoff berth and will host a first-round game at 1 p.m. Nov. 1. The team plays its home games at Sterling Park in Toledo.

The Celtics have two teams called the A side and B side. The A side is essentially the varsity squad and competes in the Midwest Rugby Union. The A side has 35 active players.

Current members of the rugby club range in age from 18 to 47.

"We have some young guys from UT. We have players from Waterville to Point Place. We have a few guys from Temperance," Mantei said.

The professional and social backgrounds of the club members are very diverse.

"We have doctors, lawyers, teachers, and some sanitation workers," Mantei said. "We even have guys [who] just got out of jail.

"We have people from pretty much every walk of life. Their backgrounds and education levels vary. We have married guys and single guys."

Former Celtics player Bruce Arnold played rugby in high school and started playing for the Toledo team four years ago at the age of 47 after discovering it on the Internet.

"I checked out their practices and my first question was, 'Do you have an old boys side?'•" Arnold said. "I ended up playing on the B side with the rookies and older guys."

The retired quality engineer who worked for the Ford Motor Co. said he banged up his shoulder and broke a finger in one match.

"When I hit 50, I was not interested in it any more. I had to give it up," the Temperance resident said.

Arnold, who now serves at the team's photographer, said most of the club members are in their late 20s.

Members pay an annual fee of $100 to participate. The funds cover the expense of field maintenance and referee fees.

"No one is getting paid," Mantei said. "It is a way to get some physical aggression out. You get to hang out with good friends. It's fairly inexpensive."

Mantei, who also plays the number nine position, said he is the designated coach this fall.

He said some of the key players in the team's 6-0 season have been Jeff Haar (Toledo); Ian Gagnon (Toledo); Ian Robertson (Toledo), and Scott Weghorst (Waterville).

He said the team brought in a new kicker. Justin McIntyre is a student at Toledo.

"We've had terrible kickers in the past. He has played well this season," Mantei said.

The team's opponent in the first round of the playoffs has not been determined. The first round game will actually be the team's season finale.

The contest serves as a seeding match for the next round of the playoffs, which pick back up in the spring.

"This year I like our odds," Mantei said. "We continue to get better every week. I have high hopes for the spring."

The Celtics' home games are free and open to the public. Mantei said there is tailgating before and after games. For more information go to toledorugby.com.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com

or 419-304-4760.



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