Anyone wandering by the Augusta Christian football field Dec. 8 might have been confused by the contest taking place.
It was hurling.
The traditional Irish sport looks like lacrosse, but throws elements of baseball and hockey into the mix. The object of the game is to kick or knock the baseball-sized ball (sliothar) into the opponent’s net (three points) or through the goalpost (one point) using a wooden axe-shaped stick (hurley) with a flat edge at the end.
The Augusta Hurling Club played host to the third Azalea Cup, attempting to defend its 2011 title against teams from Greenville and Charleston, S.C. In the round-robin event, Augusta lost to both Greenville and Charleston while Greenville defeated Charleston in the day’s final match for the overall victory.
Hurling is old hat to AHC president Kristopher Wells, who first saw the sport on a trip to Ireland in 2004 and put the club together in 2009.
“It started with just a handful of guys,” said Wells. “Me and three others would go out to Patriots Park and hit around, try to do what we had seen on YouTube videos. Where I started learning the techniques and everything was when I went to a club in Atlanta with mostly Irish guys. They’re the ones who taught me.”
With few teams playing regionally, it is a close-knit community. Charleston’s Ryan Shrum drove up to play for the Augusta team in 2011.
“It’s as much social as it is playing a game,” said Shrum. “We’re competitors on the field and friends off it.”
With teams fielding 15 players, shorthanded Augusta got help this year from Brian Spencer, the former president of a St. Louis hurling club, who drove from Raleigh, N.C. to play.
“I grew up in a traditional Irish neighborhood in St. Louis,” said Spencer. “I’ve been playing ever since.”
Connecting with the game’s roots is an attraction.
“It feels like I’m connecting with some heritage because I’m Scotch-Irish, and so it feels like I’m doing something I was meant to be doing,” said Augusta’s Jimmy Parker. “I just wish it had come around when I was in my 20s instead of at 43. What I would love to see happen is for us to establish a Gaelic athletic association in Augusta.”
A Gaelic group might be a ways off, but the hurling club has added Gaelic football to its repertoire.
“We’re going to play those two sports,” said Wells. “The goal is to get a bunch of people out so eventually we can have a league where we can play just Augusta folks. Even if we start with two teams, we’ll play a series of five games or something. Then when we grow that, we can go to the point of traveling like these guys do.”
AHC usually practices both sports at Patriots Park on Sundays at 2:30 p.m., but emailing firstname.lastname@example.org beforehand is recommended. To learn more about the club and the sport, go to http://hurling.webnode.com/.