The Spirit of the LVI award doesn’t just go to the club that sends the biggest contingent to the country’s biggest tournament, though large clubs do seem to always grab our attention. This year’s Men’s Spirit of the LVI again goes to a large club – the Cannibals, but for more reasons than size.
The Cannibals entered a total of six teams across five LVI divisions – Men’s Elite, Men’s Aces, Boys’ High School Elite, Boys’ High School Open and Boys’ U14/U16. The U16 Cannibals did well in the youth brackets, while the senior men’s and high school teams all struggled against high-end competition.
But what every Cannibals team did was compete well and exemplify good sportsmanship. Knowing the origin of the team, nothing less ought be expected. The idea of the Cannibals was hatched by Colonel Mark Drown and former Navy man Mike Cressler. Drown is the coach of the All-Army 7s team and he’s active in the youth rugby scene in Utah, coaching the backs for Lowland Rugby. He and Cressler, Lowland head coach, wanted to marry their military connections with the young people they coach, and the outcome was the Cannibals.
The senior Cannibals, featuring guys like former West Point All American Andy Locke and standout club journeyman Nate Conkey, acted as mentors and role models to the younger Cannibals leading up to the LVI. So did former Eagle and newly enlisted man Nu’u Punimata, who was unable to compete at the LVI.
Cressler and Drown see the military, and especially the National Guard, as a great option for young rugby players. Drown likes to say you can make your own rugby scholarship by joining the National Guard. So they used the Cannibals as a way to introduce young people to the idea of military service and the kind of people who follow that calling.
Any team that pulls players from all over the country and the military, pairs young kids with positive role models and brings them all to Las Vegas for the best rugby tournament in the country is worthy of accolades.