Christian Klemp is very ably carrying on the family tradition in rugby.
The Downers Grove North junior’s father, Al, has been a top player and referee in the sport for several years. So when his first chance came to take the field, Christian jumped right into the fray.
“My dad has played ever since college, so the first opportunity I got he put it all together,” Klemp said. “Freshman year was when I could start playing. I had a couple of options and decided to go with the Renegades.”
Coached by Ken Westergaard, the Renegades rugby team (formerly the Downers Grove Renegades) now features students from several area high schools. Klemp has been a standout on the team since his freshman year.
“I also play soccer, and rugby is completely different as far as team bonding goes. Everyone is a lot more close, and it’s more fun that way.”
The high-impact, all-out style of play in rugby is in many ways a natural progression from soccer, although the fierceness of the competition in rugby and dependence on teammates produces a unique camaraderie.
“Rugby is a lot more rough, but they both require a lot of stamina and a lot of fitness,” Klemp said. “The big difference between the two is the roughness and the team bonding. In soccer you’re on the team but you don’t make a lot of close friends. Once you play rugby, your teammates are all your best friends.”
Before becoming his son’s biggest influence in starting to play rugby, Al Klemp had made a major impact on the sport at the highest levels in Illinois. He played for 13 years both at Illinois State and with Club Chicago Blaze, and has been a referee since 1992.
“I forget when he stopped playing, but he’s been refereeing a lot longer than he was playing,” Klemp said. “He was working a lot of big international tournaments, but the last few years he started doing more national tournaments and lower level stuff.”
The elder Klemp’s recent resume includes officiating the elite Super League championship match in California, and he now also works Chicago-area and top Senior Division matches in the Midwest. And his influence on the sport has certainly hit close to home.
“My dad was really the only reason I started playing,” Klemp said. “Now I have a lot of reasons for staying with it.” Even with his family background in rugby, Klemp recalls the adjustment as a freshman to the rugged and wide-open style of the game.
“There’s no other sport like it as far as that goes,” he said. “My first two matches I didn’t know what I was doing, but then it got better and better.”
After having 30 players on their team last year, the Renegades have seen a drop in numbers this spring. “We’re all juniors and seniors,” Klemp said. “We could use more freshmen and sophomores, but we haven’t recruited them yet. We had a bunch of kids out at the beginning (of the year), but they started falling out because of jobs or other things.”
Klemp doesn’t plan on leaving rugby anytime soon. Since becoming hooked on the game as a freshman, he sees his third year for the Renegades as just the beginning.
“Everyone says when other sports stop, rugby starts,” Klemp said of the usual age of players. “I want to play as long as I can.”