The Baltimore Bohemian isn't your usual sports club. The team splits a case of beer at practice, it wins national championships and it plays sports you've probably never heard of.
The Baltimore Gaelic Athletic Association, or BGAA, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The Bohemian, as the organization is commonly called, is separated into four teams that play traditional Irish sports such as men's and women's Gaelic football, camogie and hurling.
Matt Guerand, a 31-year-old from Canton, is one such newcomer who found quick success in Gaelic football. Along with winning a national championship with his team, he was named the rookie of the year.
"I learned about the game when I was in college and then when I was here in Baltimore I decided to take a look to see if there was a club," Guerand said. "There certainly was. It's a pretty easy game to learn once you get a hang of all the things that aren't natural."
Gaelic football has elements of rugby, basketball and volleyball. Players can run four steps with the ball before they have to either pass, bounce or kick the ball up to themselves (a skill called soloing). Athletes score by either hitting the ball over the crossbar (one point) or into the soccer net (three points) using either their feet or a closed fist off a pass.
Hurling more closely resembles a hybrid between lacrosse and baseball. Players wield ash poles with a flat end used to scoop the ball off the ground and carry it downfield. Then players can toss the ball in the air to themselves and hit it downfield or toward the goal with a baseball-like swing. The ball itself is leather with stiches.
Camogie is essentially a women's version of hurling, with just a few minor rule changes. In both hurling and camogie, scoring is the same as in Gaelic football.
And since it's Irish, there is plenty of contact.
"The intensity is there. It's not just a social game," Guerand said. "During the national championship, people come from all over the states and the intensity level is there. No one's coming to screw around."
Like Guerand, 32-year-old Casey King, of Fells Point, was quick to pick up camogie, winning a national title and earning rookie of the year in her sport.
"I grew up playing field hockey and a little bit of lacrosse," King said. "I figured I'd come out for spring training and try it out, and I loved it."
Elements of the Gaelic games can be traced back more than 2,000 years, to times when hunters would use a stick to hit rocks at animals at a high enough velocity to kill them.
"Then one guy came out and had a contest to see who could kill more and then it eventually turned into a game," Ireland native and BGAA member Kevin Tobin said. "The drinking part came much, much later."
While the BGAA is primarily a sporting league, the activities off the field are said to be just as important to the group identity.
"It's a big party atmosphere," camogie and hurling coach Donal O'Donoghue said about the annual national championships, which were held in Philadelphia last year. "On Sunday night, win, lose or draw, everyone goes to the bar. There's a lot of social element to the game. It's a really good weekend, man."
On March 24, the BGAA is hosting an Irish Sports 101 Clinic at Latrobe Park to teach neophytes the basic skills of the Gaelic games, with drinks afterward. Players say it's a chance to experience what sports are like growing up in Ireland.
"I started as a kid, around 4 or 5 years old. You play it scholastically and then you play rec leagues back home," Tobin said. "It gets very competitive. It's something everybody does. The same way an American kid picks up a baseball bat or a basketball, that's what we did as kids with hurling and football."
Anyone can join the Bohemians, regardless of experience or skill level. All it takes is an entrance fee to cover field and travel and expenses, and a willingness to try something new.
"It's great, especially if you like competitive sports," King said. "We're giving a name for Baltimore, which is awesome."
Irish Sports 101
What: The Baltimore Gaelic Athletic Association is hosting a free Irish Sports 101 clinic. This is an opportunity for people new to the sport to come out and learn the basic skills and rules of hurling/camogie and Gaelic football. Participants are encouraged to wear sneakers or cleats and comfortable clothing. Any other equipment needed will be provided.
When: Sunday March 24, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.. Hurling/camogie will be from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and Gaelic football will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All are welcome to join the club at City Limits for a pint and some grub after the clinic.
Where: Latrobe Park in South Baltimore (1560 E. Fort Ave.)
More information: Email the club at email@example.com or go to its website, baltimoregaa.com.
Gaelic sports give locals a chance to play the Irish way
Baltimore Gaelic Athletic Association hosting a free clinic March 24 at Latrobe Park