Rugby runs through it

Sport solidifies union between Lowe and his extended family

May 01, 2008

Mount St. Joseph rugby player Chris Lowe said that the sport "is 15 guys on the field playing as one.

"Every game, it's like a brotherhood out there."

For Lowe, the bonds that he has formed through rugby are especially meaningful.

The senior's mother, Lisa Lowe, died of breast cancer when he was an infant, and his father, Michael Lowe, died of a brain tumor the summer before his freshman year. Shortly after losing his father, Lowe moved to Glenwood to live with his aunt and uncle and cousins Kevin, Kyle, Eric and Jessica Sweeney.

Rugby, played by all four boys, has been a release for Lowe, and has helped them grow closer.

"The maturity, the closeness, the bonds that he's been able to develop have been a wonderful blessing for Christian and the entire family," said Lowe's uncle Paul Sweeney. "I think it's helped him get comfortable with who he is as a young man, and it's given him tremendous confidence to be able to deal with what he's had to deal with. He's got a great attitude, and I think everyone has benefited by his addition to our family."

Lowe, the Gaels' fly half and team captain, had not seen rugby until he moved here from Connecticut three years ago. In addition to the bumps and bruises and all the running that comes with playing the game, he's still trying to master the sport's nearly inch-thick rulebook.

But he enjoys the contact as well as the similar aspects it has with football and soccer - two sports he also enjoys playing.

The rugby program at Mount St. Joseph began as a club sport three years ago and is in its first season as a varsity sport. Kevin Sweeney is a freshman at Towson University, but Lowe and Kyle Sweeney, a junior, are teammates on varsity, with Eric Sweeney, a freshman, splitting time between the freshman-sophomore team and junior varsity.

The Gaels open the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs at 6 p.m. today when they host John Carroll in the semifinals.

Fittingly, Kyle Sweeney and Lowe, who share a room, line up side by side on the rugby field, with both playing vital positions among the team's backs. Kyle is the scrum half - the No. 9 position among the 15 players on the field. He is the link to the forward players and backs, and more times than not passes the ball off to Lowe, who plays fly half and is the primary decision-maker on the team. Lowe, who handles most of the kicking duties, is the team's leading scorer with Kyle not far behind.

"I think they just inherently communicate better than anyone of the whole team," Gaels coach Mike Finley said. "The two of them just living together, it's like they're brothers."

Said Kyle: "Living together and being so close definitely helps us out. We're always able to talk about what we need to improve on and stuff. Because of that, we can get even better chemistry down between us, so we usually don't have any problems out on the field."

At the Sweeney household, it's all rugby all the time. You can find 10 or so rugby balls around, a few broken picture frames and makeshift goal posts in the backyard.

After seeing the cost of rugby goal posts, Paul Sweeney went to a hardware store and bought two long curtain rods that he attached to a soccer goal that were already there. "I painted them white, put some flags on top and made me a hero for $30 and a little bit of spray paint," he said.

The boys have made sure to take full advantage. Kyle and Lowe are constantly working to improve on their chemistry, while Eric, who also plays scrum half, is getting a step ahead by learning from his older siblings and passing along the skills to his younger teammates.

"Some kids would be like, `Hey, let's go kick the soccer ball around or throw the football or baseball,' " said Lowe, who plans to join Kevin at Towson University to study business in the fall. "With us, it's, `Let's go play some rugby.' "

With Kevin, Kyle and Lowe all members of the charter team in 2006, tonight's playoff game will be that much more special for the family.

"All the family gets tremendous joy sitting up in the stands and watching them play side by side," Paul Sweeney said. "And [Kyle and Chris] are really good. They've got this sort of sixth sense, this communication.

"I view them as brothers even though they are really cousins at this point given how close everybody is."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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