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Ancient Irish Sport Comes Alive In Broad Ripple

Hurling is a big hit at Broad Ripple Park

Writer  /  Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography  /  Indianapolis Gaelic Athletic Association

Hurling is a traditional Irish sport that involves driving a ball down a field with a wooden stick in order to score against the opposing team. Created 3,000 years ago as a way to train Irish military, over time it has become modernized, and in the 1880s it became an official regulated sport in Ireland.

“It’s a cross between lacrosse and field hockey in that you’re using a stick to move a ball up and down a field,” says Tim Cabeen, who first got into the activity after spending a semester in Ireland.

Cabeen isn’t the only American who has come to embrace what is considered to be the world’s fastest field sport.

In 2005, Steve Quigley helped form the Indianapolis Gaelic Athletic Association (Indy GAA) to introduce the sports of hurling, Camogie (women’s hurling) and Gaelic football to the local community. The league, which participates in inter-city games and national tournaments, initially started out with just two teams but has grown steadily in the past decade. Currently, there are nine hurling teams, each one sponsored by an Indianapolis business.

Paul Romer joined the Indy GAA because he grew up playing competitive team sports and sought an outlet for athletic competition as an adult.

“I [appreciate] the welcoming and hospitable culture, the fantastic family atmosphere at matches and events and the availability of multiple levels of competition to suit every athletic ability,” Romer says.

Though the sport is traditionally played with 15 people per side, this league plays 11 per side since they use high school football fields rather than the sprawling fields of Ireland. Hurling has gained popularity in the Broad Ripple area because from day one the Indy GAA has held practices at Broad Ripple Park.

“We acquire a lot of players simply because people are walking through the park, see us practicing, and ask what we’re doing,” says Cabeen, who is not only a participant in both hurling and Gaelic football but also acts as the Public Relations Officer for the Indy GAA. “We put a hurling stick in their hand, teach them what to do, and if they think it’s fun, they ask to join.”

The league also recruits a lot of new players at the Indy Irish Fest (indyirishfest.com), held this year from September 14-17.

In addition, the Indy GAA offers youth teams that practice, concurrently, with the adults.

“That’s a big draw [because no one is] sitting in a waiting room [or] stuck in childcare,” says Jessica Rhodes. “We’re active and happy together.”

The Indy GAA also has an indoor winter league, which plays at Sports Zone in Indianapolis. In that league, they play six to a side because the fields are so small. Cabeen describes it as a fast-paced way to introduce the sport to new people.

“We call ourselves a ‘pub league’ because when we first started, all of our sponsors were pubs,” says Cabeen, noting how Connor’s Pub has been a sponsor since the club’s inception. “More recently, however, we’ve moved in the direction of breweries and now have six breweries sponsoring us.”

Other Broad Ripple businesses that support the Indianapolis GAA include Bier Brewery, Smoking Iron Alterations, and Good Earth Natural Foods — the only business in Indianapolis that sells hurling and Gaelic football equipment. Rudy Nehrling, president of Good Earth, maintains that the Indy Hurling Club has been one of the best parts of his life for the past decade.

“It’s provided great exercise, camaraderie, Irish Culture, social events, and trips [to] Ireland,” Nehrling says.

In 2013, the Indy GAA sent a team to Galway, Ireland to play at the Aer Lingus International Hurling Festival, where they played against non-Irish teams from all over the world.

“We won that tournament,” Cabeen says.

On June 17, the Indy GAA will hold the Indianapolis Invitational — the second largest Gaelic Games tournament held in the United States every year. Sponsored by Bier Brewery and held at the Indianapolis World Sports Park, teams from all over the U.S. and Canada will compete in all three sports — hurling, Camogie, and Gaelic football.

By far the best thing about the sport, however, is the way it forges friendships through fitness. Tylyn Bremer, who met her fiancé in the club, says that the Indy GAA has provided her with a close-knit social and athletic community.

“I’ve made lifelong friends, learned two sports, and have had the opportunity to travel and compete against teams from all over the country,” Bremer says.

About Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is an award-winning writer and columnist who writes human interest stories for national, regional, and local magazines. She is also the author of the book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

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