Hurling Tryouts This Saturday; All Are Welcome

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Think you got what it takes to dribble a ball on a stick while attackers try to club you with theirs?

Then come on out to St. Vincent Park at 11 a.m. this Saturday and test your skills at hurling, run by your local Gaelic athletic club. The tryout is open even to those who've never picked up a stick before, and everyone who comes is guaranteed to make one of the teams, which compete throughout the summer.

Many of you are understandably terrified at the thought of participating in a sport known for its violence and maniacal stick-swinging. But rest assured, hurling -- an ancient Irish game that combines elements of baseball, lacrosse, hockey and tennis -- isn't as dangerous as it looks; as long you can run your butt off, you'll be fine, says Brian Spencer, the president of the St. Louis Gaelic Athletic Club. He swears that everybody on the team still has all their teeth.

"It's a dangerous sport, and accidents can happen, but at the very first practice we teach people the safety drills and tell them how to protect themselves, so they'll know not to put themselves in certain situations," he says.

You've got to be at least 16 to play; the oldest member is 55. Some players are students, others are executives.

A quick synopsis of the sport: start with a soccer-like field, with nets on each end. Affix two football-style goalposts above those nets. Give 15 players on each team a flat-sided wooden club, or "hurley," which is shaped like ax. Blow the whistle.

Players run up the field, controlling the ball by dribbling it (or, if they're talented enough, balancing it) on their hurleys, while opposing players try to knock the ball off, either with whacks or body-checks. Passes and shots-on-goal are delivered by tossing the ball in the air and clubbing it with a baseball-like swing downfield. One point through the uprights; three points into the net.

The season begins March 26 and runs through August. Participants will be divided into eight or nine men's teams, and two women's teams. (The woman's version of the sport is called camogie.) Games are played every Saturday (every other Saturday for women) at St. Vincent Park, located at 7335 St. Charles Rock Rd., with Wednesday practices at Forrest Park. There are opportunities for travel tournaments in other cities throughout the season, and at the end of the year the best players will represent St. Louis in a national tourney.

Dues are $75, but not until you commit to the season. All you need for tryouts is a pair of cleats. The club will provide helmets.

Last, but (certainly!) not least: no Saturday match is complete without a post-game drinking session at one of the club's five sponsor bars. It's very important to medicate your body after a hard day of whacking. "I think the social aspect of our club is almost as important in keeping people around as is running a good league," says Spencer.

Daily RFT will offer a preview of the season as it draws closer. We'll profile a player or two and explain how the sport came to St. Louis.

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