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By Dominic Monte
Creative Director, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company
A goal of Penn Mutual’s rugby sponsorship is to help grow the sport of rugby by increasing exposure, awareness and engagement with the game. We think one of the best ways to do that is by showing off rugby’s best asset, namely the quality of the people who play. For the past two years, Penn Mutual has produced online documentaries that follow rugby teams from universities participating in the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC). The project is simple—go beyond the highlight reels and genuinely tell the story of rugby through those who play the game.
While wrapping up the first series, which followed the men’s and women’s teams at Kutztown University, we started thinking about which schools would make good candidates for the following year. There are only a few guidelines for this project. First, the school must have a men’s and women’s rugby team that participates in the CRC. Second, we look for a school that has a compelling story to tell. Third, we need to be granted team access throughout the spring season where we can film them at practice, during off time, and at matches.
In the fall of 2016 we approached Life University, a small private college in Marietta, Georgia, to be the focus of our project this year. On the surface, there were a few interesting coincidences. For example, they have the same colors as Penn Mutual and the word “life” is in both of our names. But the real reasons go even deeper. The women’s team won the CRC in 2016, and the men’s team has been a consistent contender. Additionally, we were inspired by the huge fan base that traveled with them to support the team, as well as the positive attitudes displayed by the members of the program and the fan base. Overall, it was a great fit.
Our first visit to Life happened in late January. We met the teams in the rugby office, a space shared by all the coaches for both sides. Armed with pizza, soda and a handful of questions to try to get to know the players, we let the conversation flow naturally. What happened next was the start of a friendship and a working relationship that amazes me to this day. We sat there sharing our thoughts on the culture of rugby, what we, at Penn Mutual, have learned throughout the past few years, and what the students hope to learn in the coming months with regards to rugby, their abilities and their future. From that first conversation on, we quickly realized that the culture of the rugby program, their passion for the game, their desire to learn and their desire to get better is what needed to be the focus of the documentary.
Lasting Purpose is: To Give, To Do, To Love, To Serve
Each trip to campus involved a packed timeline of activies and a clear plan of what we wanted to capture on camera. Typically, we arrived late on a Thursday, just in time to catch the end of an evening practice, and then we’d wake up early to meet either the men’s or women’s teams in the weight room at 6:00 a.m. Our days at Life were filled with following the teams and players around campus - from the gym for lifting sessions, to the field for practices, to the common areas around campus as they went to class and their jobs.
We always made sure to schedule time with a variety of players. Having an opportunity to ask questions, learn more about them, and to gather an appreciation of the dedication and pride that these student-athletes put into their sport, their school work and their own personal lives was the most rewarding part of each trip. The openness of the team, the alumni, and former coaches was a huge help in telling their story.
Through the practices, games, lifting and the pre and post-game rituals, we got to see every side of these teams. We saw how it all came together to create something bigger. Even at the end of their long days, students would still come up to ask if there was anything else we needed. There’s no further evidence needed to see that the Life U culture was more than just talk; it is the way the teams look at everything in their lives, and the way they treat everyone around them that maintains this important culture.
An Understanding of Life Rugby
The final rugby weekend of the college year was the perfect representation of the culture of the university, the mentality of the athlete, and the closeness of the program. Anyone who was in attendance at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship experienced the roller coaster of emotions that Life University went through. There was redemption for both teams in advancing past teams that had previously beaten them for other national titles. However, there was also the crushing dichotomy of pure joy of winning a title, and the agony of having another title right at the tip of your fingers.
It was how both teams handled the trials and tribulations that showed the true nature of their culture. The first thing both teams did was thank the group of supporters that made the trek from Georgia to support the teams. The women ran off the field as champions, immediately heading to the section donning the green and yellow. The men ultimately made it to the finals but came up short. You wouldn’t have known this by their demeanor and poise, however, as they went on thanking their supporters after a disappointing loss.
While both teams did well at the CRC, this project is not about the victories or the disappointments. It’s not about the great plays, the missed opportunities or a bad call that cost the game. It is about life. This documentary series is about the constant improvements we all want to make within ourselves. And for these student-athletes, rugby is just the vessel that helps them achieve their goals, on and off the pitch. To watch the Life University documentary series,click here.
Life is being in sync.
Life is overcoming adversity.
Life is redemption.
Life is joy.
Life is agony.
Life is rugby.
Rugby is life.