INDIANAPOLIS – A group of athletes is coming together to support our local veterans. It’s all part of a new group’s mission of growing the sport of rugby in central Indiana while giving back to those who sacrificed it all.

“People here mean so much to the community and to the post in general,” said Rick Curtis, the Commander of American Legion Post 155. “It’s a great family to be a part of.”

Curtis said that membership has been dwindling in recent years, and they’ve been looking for new ways to grow and flourish.

That’s when a group of rugby players stepped in to help.

“I mean we wouldn’t be able to be out here playing rugby on a beautiful Saturday without them, so to be able to give back to the ones who gave everything is really important,” said Brady Ruffing, a rugby player with the White River Rugby Club.

The relationship between the American Legion and the White River Rugby Club goes back years. The Legion provides the field for the team, and in exchange, they help maintain the facility as well as the grounds. Now the team is taking their relationship to the next level. 

“Personally, a veteran saved my life and so it’s been somewhat of a calling to make sure I give back to them,” said Jeff Russell, the Head Coach of the White River Rugby Club.

Jeff Russell was in a terrible rugby accident a few years ago and is now dedicating his life to giving back to others. Instead of playing rugby for the White River Rugby Club, he is now coaching the team. This year, Russell and a few of his former teammates and players decided to form a new group known as the Dead Fish Society.

“We wanted to reach out to the community and be a little more philanthropic and really start helping out the American Legion and veterans,” said Dan King, the President of the new group and a White River Rugby Club player.

The Dead Fish Society started this summer. Their main goal is to help grow the sport of rugby in central Indiana while giving back to those who gave it all for our country. 

“I think we all have a very short time on this earth, and it’s a lot shorter than we expect, and I think the amount of time you maximize that doing good is a life well spent,” Russell said. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving than our local veterans to be the beneficiaries of that work.”

Although the new group is just getting started, they already have big plans to give back. The group is planning a variety of fundraisers to help raise money for the American Legion. This includes hosting an annual 5k known as the “Ruckin’ Hot Ruck Run.”

“We would love to do golf outings or even just general get-togethers here at the facility,” King said. “[We would love to have] raffles, tournaments, and hopefully this annual run, that kind of stuff.”

The money raised will not only help grow the American Legion, but the veterans will take it to the next level by giving back to other local organizations too.

“You give back to the community and you give back to the veterans,” said Charlie Holmes, The First Vice Commander of American Legion Post 155. “I don’t think people realize what we do. We donate back. We’ve donated to cancer societies. We’ve donated to the HVAF (Helping Veterans And Families), that’s a big one, and in general, it just makes you feel good.”

Along with raising money for the American Legion, they’re highlighting all the hard work veterans do for others.

“The American Legion, I don’t think gets enough attention for the good that they do in the community,” Russell said. “I think raising awareness about our local veterans and the things they are trying to do locally, the good they are trying to do locally, merits attention.”

Some of the rugby players are veterans too, so they know how impactful it is to give back in this way.

“I love the fact that the club is involved with the American Legion and we do stuff with veterans and stuff like that. As a veteran myself, I think it’s awesome,” said Joe Betzler, a rugby player with the White River Rugby Club.

High school rugby players are getting involved too. The Carmel High School rugby teams are making it a top priority to give back to their local veterans.

“That’s part of the rugby spirit, I think, is to give back,” said Larry Shiller, the assistant Boy’s Rugby Head Coach at Carmel High School and the President of the Carmel Rugby Board. “It’s just part of our DNA to give back.

To the veterans at the American Legion, the added support from the Dead Fish Society makes a big difference.

“It’s just good to see people of their age coming up here and supporting us,” Holmes said. “They won’t just play their rugby and leave, they will come in and have a drink, sit around, and we really like to talk to them.”

“They are amazing people,” Curtis said. “They are doing wonderful things for us here.”

In the end, the White River Rugby Club and American Legion veterans have become not just friends but family.

“I met some of the veterans here and created that bond and [we have] friendships now, friendships with people that I never thought I would have a friendship with,” Ruffing said.

To join the new Dead Fish Society, you do not have to be a rugby player, you just have to be someone who wants to help others. 

“You do not have to play rugby to join the Dead Fish Society, you just have to be a fan of life,” King said.

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