Corvallis Hurling: Benton Brigade brings new life to old sport

by Chris Singer

A drill practicing hand passing and catching

If you visit Willamette Park on a Saturday morning, you might come across a group playing with a ball and some sticks on the big field at the end of the parking lot. If you’re like some of the passersby I heard comment as they were biking past the field, you probably think it’s field hockey. Those people might be surprised to know it’s actually the Benton Brigade Hurling Club playing one of the world’s oldest field sports, hurling.

Dustin Herron launched the Benton Brigade in the summer of 2008. Since its humble beginnings, the club is now into their third season as part of the Northwest Hurling League, which consists of teams from Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver (WA) and even Pocatello (Idaho).

So what exactly is hurling? Think of a sport that is a cross between hockey, lacrosse and, to a certain extent, baseball.

It’s also Ireland’s national sport and originated over two thousand years ago when the Celts brought the sport to Ireland at the close of the last ice age. Back then, and arguably even now, hurling was used as a way to test the strength and courage of a warrior.

Strength and courage are just a few of the skills necessary to compete in hurling. Deemed as the fastest game on grass, I would also say hurling requires a good bit of endurance and fitness as well.

There was no doubt in my mind after watching the Benton Brigade practice on Saturday that hurling is indeed, a game for warriors.

It’s also a lot of fun.

Just about every player I talked with said they became addicted almost immediately.

Katherine Eastlake is in her first season with the Benton Brigade. She’s also the only woman on the roster.

Katherine, a child and adolescent therapist, was introduced to hurling by her brother, who lives in Ireland. When she saw some posters around advertising the club, she decided to go for it.

Like her teammates, she was hooked immediately by both the intensity and fun of hurling. She has no qualms at all about being the only woman on the team.

“Of course it would be cool if more women came out to play, but I don’t think I’m at any disadvantage at all,” says Eastlake.

The team catching a breather before the next drill

The club is always looking for new players and anyone is welcome from age 15 and up to attend one of the club’s practices held every Saturday at 10 a.m. at Willamette Park.

Loaner equipment (hurley and helmet) is available for those interested in trying out the sport. You might want to bring a pair of lacrosse gloves if you have access to any. Although frowned upon by the toughest of “warriors,” the reality is most people have to go to work or school the next day. The Benton Brigade actually keeps track of a statistic called “Bloodied Knuckles.” Currently, Mike McCusker leads in that statistical category with one bloodied, aka broken knuckle. He was sporting his broken knuckle at practice on Saturday and was forced to play one-armed.

If you decide to become a member of the Benton Brigade, annual dues are $30. You’ll need to purchase your own equipment and the club can help you order what you need. Hurley sticks range around $40-45 and the most expensive piece of equipment is the hurling helmet which runs around $100. You’ll also want to purchase a few sliotars (pronounced “slitter”), which are the ball used in hurling, for about $10 a piece.

Those who might want to have a closer look before trying out the sport should consider attending the 3rd Annual Willamette Cup Tournament on Saturday, May 5th. The tournament will feature six teams from the Northwest Hurling League and will go on all day at the Crystal Lakes Sports Fields in Corvallis.

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