Rugby’s Joey Ryan prepares to pass torch
The president of Biola’s rugby club dishes on his final season. | Thecla Li / THE CHIMES
Joey Ryan, senior communication studies major, has a lot on his plate as he prepares to graduate in less than a month. Even so, the global student has willingly taken on a new challenge. Ryan is currently in the process of writing a handbook to prepare others for the job he has held for the past two years: president of Biola’s fast-growing rugby club team.
RYAN PREPARES HIS SUCCESSOR
The handbook is already well over 10 pages long and includes a four-page history of the club’s origin written by one of its founders. Ryan hopes it makes future club presidents better prepared than he was when he stepped into the role.
“When I was going into my junior year and I was told by the [current] president, ‘Hey, you’re going to be the next guy,’ I was like, ‘Okay, what do you need me to do?’ and then he just left,” Ryan said. “I had no idea what to do.”
The amount of effort Ryan is putting into making the handbook while balancing everything else in his final semester of college is the perfect symbol of the dedication he has shown to the fledgling club team over his four years at Biola.
“Joey was the rugby club for me,” said former student Noah Beckler, who remained in the club despite taking the Spring 2018 semester off. “To see him leave will certainly be a shame and a loss.”
Many club members learned the sport of rugby from Ryan and other club leaders, and now take joy in passing their knowledge down to the next generation.
“To have people come on and [be able to] teach them, it’s a pleasure, especially when they want to learn,” Beckler said. “To see the new guys get excited about scoring a try or a great tackle or an awesome pass… It gives me a fresh perspective again.”
EAGLES NEARLY WIN BIOLA RUGBY SEVENS
The club also thrived from adding several seasoned rugby players in 2018 and enjoyed one of the best seasons in its history, losing its first two games before winning the next three. The Eagles then invited all five of their previous opponents to the Biola Rugby Sevens tournament, which has already become the highlight of the club’s season in just its second year of existence.
“Everything we did from the fall all the way into this semester was literally geared towards that [tournament],” Ryan said. “We played teams to develop the [necessary] skills. We tried to get a game plan and set in our identity, basically like, ‘What do we do when this happens?’ A lot of things are situational and practiced. So we did everything to basically win that tournament.”
They almost did win the tournament, losing narrowly to a squad comprised of players from California Baptist University in the championship game. The same opponent had, in Ryan’s words, “destroyed” the Eagles when they had faced off last fall.
“The fact we literally lost by one was quite an accomplishment because they’re very, very, very, very skilled,” Ryan said. “They were the hardest team we played this year for sure—and we almost knocked them off.”
As president, Ryan took care of the club’s administrative aspects, which included planning the Biola Rugby Sevens, along with his vice president, accounting major Ruben Pekary. During games, however, Ryan often delegated captain duties on the field to several of his experienced teammates. Those included freshman biochemistry major Kevin Loney, an all-American rugby player with experience on the United States under-18 national rugby team, and his roommate, freshman cinema and media arts major Alexio Mah. Ryan has made preliminary plans for the two younger players to take over leadership of the club in his stead, and Mah hopes to continue building up the rugby club going forward.
“I think my main thing being the vice president next year is I will push my whole being into getting a better field for us,” Mah said. “I think as of now, our standing as a rugby team, we’re [at that point]. We’re playing, we’re showing what we’ve got.”
Indeed, the Eagles have earned respect among local collegiate rugby teams for not only playing tough on the field, but also upholding Biola’s standards during their customary postgame hangouts with opponents. The Eagles pray with other Christian teams after their games and try to share the gospel with non-Christian ones when they can. Ryan has often taken the lead with this, modeling clean techniques on the field and starting conversations off it.
As much as Ryan has poured into this club, however, the Hong Kong native will always be thankful for what it gave him: a tight community full of lifelong friendships.
“Coming from overseas and having to adjust to a different culture, rugby is one sport that I played and I knew well,” Ryan said. “I didn’t think I would ever play [collegiately] and let alone compete against other colleges in a sport.”