The Principia College Thunder Chickens have recently shed their red and black feathers in favor of blue and gold jerseys. Head Coach Nick Johnson said that part of the reason behind this and other changes lay in the program’s evolution from club sport status to that of “team sport.”

Johnson explained that he and Athletic Director Lee Ellis have developed this new label for the rugby program because: “It will help define us a little better and allow for our unique relationship with the AD [athletic department] and OSL [Office of Student Life]. This phrasing indicates we are not a varsity sport, nor are we a club sport…”

The men on the team seem to embrace the new jerseys and the changes they represent. Senior Tom Bisbee said, “It’s fun wearing the colors of your school…I feel it’s a better representation of the school [than the red and black jerseys].” Junior Tyler Marunde said he thinks the new jerseys also help to bring a sense of seriousness to the team.

The change in uniform is just one of many changes the Thunder Chickens have undergone in the last couple years as a result of the team becoming more integrated with the athletic department. The club was formed in 1979, and senior James Suber explained that Coach Johnson has only been the second full-time coach in the history of the club. Suber said, “He’s probably been the biggest factor for where we are now because he can develop that relationship with the athletic department and other teams.” Junior Max Russell explained that before Coach Johnson became the head coach, the team was run completely by students.

Senior James Suber prepares to place the ball into the scrum. photo / Cameron Huber

Along with the addition of Coach Johnson, the team has also changed by recently joining the rugby league known as the Missouri Rugby Football Union (MRFU); this means that the Thunder Chickens’ primary season is now in the fall when they play other collegiate teams. They play men’s teams in non-league games during their spring season. As a result of the addition of this new fall season, the team hosted their first pre-fall sports camp this last fall—which a lot of freshmen attended.

The Thunder Chickens have also recently gained their very own field. Russell explained that with the cancellation of the football program, what was once the football field has now become the rugby pitch. The team also now has its own locker room in Hay Field House.

Junior Tyler Marunde feels the power of the pass. photo / Cameron Huber

While the men on the team certainly seem to enjoy these changes, it is not simply the spiffy new uniforms or locker room that make them enjoy this sport so much. Coach Johnson explained, “The captains have emphasized the concept of brotherhood this year.” He added, “I feel we have that, and these guys rely on each other and depend on each other.”

Russell said he also really enjoys the sense of brotherhood he feels on the team. “When you’re out there hitting hard … and you see people lay their bodies on the line to accomplish one goal … to have that kind of success has been … such a powerful experience,” said Russell.

Marunde expressed similar sentiments: “I think what I’ve most enjoyed is being with the guys outside … just having fun and just playing that backyard football game…”

Bisbee said that he has also enjoyed watching the freshmen develop as players. Suber said that this year’s freshmen seem to have caught on and developed as players more quickly than he feels that he and some of the other upperclassmen on the team did when they were new, and he thinks that is probably due to the increased structure of the team.

Coach Johnson also said that he has enjoyed seeing “the growth of the new players and the experienced players.” He said that he is also “looking forward to finding out how hard the new players work over the summer and seeing if they do the work, because they could be a really terrific team.”

Senior Tom Bisbee prepares to pass while escaping a tackle. photo / Cameron Huber

Both Bisbee and Suber encouraged the student body to continue to come out to games and support the team next year. They said that the team is always open to new players and that they welcome everyone. They added that, if you’re interested in playing, you should talk to anyone on the team or to the club’s new president, freshman Jake Milner, or simply come out to a practice.

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