For rugby player Lafitaga Lealaua of Elgin, rugby is more than just a sport he passionately plays and talks about. It's a culture of respect and acceptance for all who play.
It's club traditions and a place where close-knit friendships are made within the team, as well as with their opponents.
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"Patu kaha, patu ke raro," which means "hit hard, hit low" in the Maori language, is printed on the backs of the blue team shirts of the Fox Valley Maoris Rugby Football Club of St. Charles.
Beneath the words is the symbolic tattooed face of an Eastern Polynesian Maori warrior of New Zealand. The phrase perfectly describes the actions of the rough and action-packed sport.
"Inside the game, we're always hitting each other," Lealaua says. "At the end, after 80 minutes, we're all friends. That is rugby. It's not just a game, it's a friendship thing."
Lealaua, known as Lafi to family and friends, came to the United States five years ago from the small island village of Vaiee in Samoa. He met his wife Amanda, of St. Charles, while she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Vaiee, coincidentally while Lealaua was home briefly on vacation. The two quickly became close and decided to get married, move to Elgin and start a family.
Rugby is the main sport of his native Samoa, and everyone plays it. He started when he was 5, has played for 25 years, and for the last five years has been a member of the Fox Valley Maoris. Although Lealaua knew English when he came here, joining the team helped him hone his skills in the language.
"When you play, communication is the most important (thing) in rugby," Lealaua says.
Through the years, he's made bonds with his fellow teammates and calls them his brothers.
"Fox Valley Maoris, it's like family to me, it's not just a rugby team."
The team practices twice a week at Primrose Park in St. Charles, with games played across town at James O. Breen Community Park on alternating Saturdays. The Fox Valley Maoris team is always looking for new members.
For details, visit foxvalleyrugby.org.