PRO Rugby announced on February 9, 2016 the addition of Columbus, Ohio as the league’s third team. The selection of Columbus came as somewhat of a surprise, because the original PRO Rugby announcement in November 2015 did not mention that the competition planned to place a team in the Midwest in the inaugural season] Ohio’s inaugural season home opener was played on May 1, 2016. PRO Rugby revealed the team’s nickname — the Ohio Aviators — on June 6, 2016, a reference to the Wright brothers who were from Ohio.

Sagamore Hills resident Zack Stryffeler has achieved his dream of becoming a professional rugby player for the Columbus Aviators. Playing in the inaugural season for the team, he has found a home in Columbus after globetrotting the world playing for various international club teams, from Berlin to Ireland. Zack, who attended St. Barnabas and graduated from Padua High School, took some time from his hectic schedule, to answer a few questions from NordoniaHills.News.

  1. 8Background on education, hometown, parents, etc.
    1. Grew up in Sagamore Hills. Attended Rushwood and St. Barnabas for elementary school before going to Padua Franciscan in Parma for high school where I played quarterback for the football team, center on the o6 state championship and 07 state runner up team, and 3rd base for the 06 district champion baseball team. I grew up playing CYO football, NHAA baseball, and ice hockey out of Garfield Heights and the Cleveland Barons. I am the oldest of 4 siblings – we all went to St. Barnabas or Nordonia Middle School and all went and graduated from Padua. After high school I went on to Washington and Jefferson College in Washington PA, where I played D3 football and ice hockey. I graduated in 4 years with a political science and pre law degree. I decided after graduation that I wanted to follow my passion for sports so I went to graduate school and have receieved my master’s in education of exercise science.
  2. Travels throughout the globe before this year
    1. My second semester of my junior year at Washington and Jefferson was spent at Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. This is where I first met rugby and learned the game. In 2011, I was selected by the Atlantis 7’s to play in a 7’s tournament in Havana, Cuba. (7’s is seven players a side as opposed to the regular 15 a side game. 7 a side rugby will be in the Rio Olympics this year). The following year in 2012, I was again selected to play with the Atlantis 7’s; this time we were in Trinidad and Tobago. I have traveled all across the US from San Diego to Manhattan to play in various matches and tournaments. In July of 2014, my girlfriend, Michaela, and myself, moved to Cashel Ireland for a year to play for the Cashel Rugby Club in the All Ireland League.
  3. Other Sports played while growing up
    1. We played every sport growing up. My first and true loves are baseball and ice hockey. We lived in a cul de sac so we had our basketball hoop in the street, a hockey net readily accessible on the side of the garage, and a large Rubbermaid bin overflowing with footballs, kickballs, paintball guns, goalie and catcher equipment, tennis rackets, wiffle balls and bats, baseball gloves (both left and right handed), hockey pucks, toy dump trucks, and other various forms of childhood recreation. I played baseball, ice hockey, and basketball. I did not start playing organized football until 7th I was having too much fun playing hockey year round.
  4. Pro Rugby Information
    1. The official name of the Pro Rugby team in Columbus is the Ohio Aviators and we play out of Obetz; a small suburb 10 minutes outside of Columbus and is also the home of the MLS’s Columbus Crew’s training facility. Pro Rugby is in its inaugural season; starting with 5 teams and with the hope of eventual expansion next year. The team name was polled on social media and a vote was taken for each team name.
  5. Can family and friends watch Pro Rugby online or on TV?
    1. Pro Rugby is currently being live streamed down in Columbus via Time Warner Cable, but my friends and family can stream the matches on ProRugby.org and watch from anywhere.
  6. To the casual fan, how do you describe rugby?
    1. I few words, I describe rugby as the ultimate team game needing players of all shapes, sizes, skill sets, speeds, and strengths sharing one vision to enjoy the game and to respect the opponent and official. For the rules, you can only pass backwards. If you want more on the game, call me. Hahaha it’s a hard game for us Americans to comprehend initially, but actually quite easy to learn once you get a foothold in on the basis of gameplay.
  7. Other daytime job to supplement income. What are some restraints I have with both jobs?
    1. I work for a commercial insurance company for my full time job from 8-5 most days. On those work days, I do my weights prior to going into the office and then train after work with my local 7’s club, 1823. On Wednesday afternoons, I have an agreement with my incredibly understanding boss where I am able to take off to train with the Pro Rugby team. The hard parts of this set up are that I only make 1-2 Pro sessions a week due to work and availability and if I do make the roster for an away match, Monday’s are our travel days so I have to take the day off of work.
  8. Difficult Travel Schedule
    1. With the other 4 teams in the league being based out west, our travel schedule is pretty hectic. Normally, flights take off at some point on Saturday and normally the team is split up on 2-3 different flights and connections. Matches are usually on Sunday afternoons, so our return travel day is Monday. Sunday nights are usually dinner and a quiet night out with the home team. It is customary for the home team to take the travelling team out and share a meal, beverage, and a good time.
  9. Average Salary
    1. The Pro Rugby pay system is set up on a 3 tier system. First Tier is mainly international professionals and internationally capped players (capped meaning they have represented their country on a national team at some point) and their salary is $30k. The second tier is also for professional players and domestic amateur players that the league decided to invest in and they make $20k a year. The last tier is represented from local club players or those that are unable to perform the professional schedule full time and are paid on a match selection basis.
  10. Expansion plans
    1. I believe that there are conversations about expanding the league for the upcoming years. They do not really disclose to the players what their future expansion ideas are.
  11. Future plans for myself and for the league
    1. Ultimately, I would love to continue to play and hopefully be able to commit full time to the rugby and play full time. Eventually though, my body will not allow it and the young guys will run circles around me. And at that point, I am sure I will fall into my passion to coach; on field as well as the Strength and conditioning portion.

Thanks very much for this, Vic. I am very honored and privileged to have the opportunity to get paid to play something that I love and to get to share my journey with my community and family is something that I feel truly blessed to have received. One thing I have never forgotten, no matter where I’m at or where I’m going, is to never forget your roots. Never forget where I have came from and those that have influenced me in any way along my journey. To always be grateful for every encounter I have made and for every opportunity or lack thereof that I have experienced.

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