A mid-June trip to The Netherlands was quite a ride for the Charlotte Royals Rugby Club as they travelled to Amsterdam to compete in the 2018 Bingham World Cup in Amsterdam. The Bingham Cup is a three-day international tournament between members of International Gay Rugby. It honors Mark Bingham, a founder of New York and San Francisco’s teams and one of the brave heroes on Flight 93 [on 9/11]. This year, the Bingham Cup played host to 70 men’s clubs and, for the first time, four women’s clubs from all around the world, totaling over 2300 players.

Charlotte Royals players began making their way to Europe over the last couple of weeks, taking in the sights and preparing for several grueling days of rugby. The team took a boat tour of the Amsterdam canals, had a few warmup practices, and took some time to reconnect with members of other clubs that they’d competed against in previous years.

Unfortunately, as the players descended upon Amsterdam, they received word that one of their brothers, David June, had passed away just days before the games began. They were heartbroken, but determined to play on in the name of a man who never failed to put smiles on faces and points on the board. Each day, the team wrote simply “June” on their forearms in honor of their fallen teammate.

When matches kicked off on the morning on June 8, the Royals had the first match of the day against the San Francisco Fog, starting out strong with a 55-7 win. They kept the intensity up later that day with a 31-12 win over the Columbus Coyotes, ending day one with a 2-0 record.

Matches on June 9 proved to be more difficult as the boys took on international opponents, taking losses of 12-7 against the Madrid Titanes and 10-0 versus the London Kings Cross Steelers. With the day ending on a 2-2 record, morale took a hit but the Royals made sure to rest up with plenty of water, stretching and ice baths to stay ready for the final day.

The June 10 semi-finals came with Charlotte taking on the Atlanta Bucks, a regular opponent for the Royals. With long-time friends on both sides of the field, it was an emotional match as Charlotte pulled out a 19-15 win over Atlanta. That 3-2 record put the Royals into the finals for the Hoagland Plate, squaring up against the Columbus Coyotes once more.

Heading into the final match with several injured players taken out, our boys left everything they had on the field as they played their toughest match of the weekend. At the end of the first half, the Royals were ahead 7-5, with points scored by Erik Franklin and Jonathan Kilgore.

Shortly into the second half, Columbus came back with another try (comparable to a touchdown) and extra points, setting the score to 12-7 in their favor. With just a few minutes left, Arthur Milne of Charlotte scored another try and Jonathan Kilgore’s extra kick put the Royals back in the lead. In the last play of the match, Columbus made a break through the Charlotte defense and got within a few yards of scoring. From across the field, Michael Wong made a game-winning tackle to take the Columbus player out of bounds in the end zone before points could be scored. And with that, the Royals had won the Hoagland Plate, the first time ever they’ve brought back hardware from the international tournament since its start in 2002.

The sidelines erupted in cheers from teammates, partners, and even players from other Southeast teams like Nashville, Charleston and Atlanta, who came to cheer on their friends and rally the team. As the Royals accepted their trophy, cheers were shouted out for those that played, those that supported and for the opponents that challenged them to fight so hard. But in the end, the loudest cheers were made for David June, whose spirit pushed our boys on to just play rugby for the sake of being able to step out onto the field.

During the next few days, as the Royals returned home with their heads held high, they can’t help but be proud of the literal blood, sweat and tears that went into their international trip. It was surely a trip of a lifetime for the Charlotte Royals Rugby Club.