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The connections made through rugby can last a lifetime.

That’s the lesson Spencer Paddock began to see when he joined the sport eight years ago, but truly realized just in the past year. His old college side, Middlebury RFC, made the 2,500-mile, cross-country trip from Vermont to Missoula this week as the honorary guests to kick off the action at the 37th annual Maggotfest rugby tournament Thursday.

The Maggots, Paddock’s current team, host Middlebury at 6:30 p.m. in the premier match of the opening night of rugby at Fort Missoula Rugby Park, the final event in a three-match bill that leads into Saturday and Sunday’s day-long rugby extravaganza.

Paddock got his rugby start in Middlebury in 2005. He’d enrolled in Middlebury College with the hopes of walking on with the school’s soccer program after playing four years for Missoula Hellgate. Instead, he wound up a rugger and a two-time Division-II national champion.

Six years later, Paddock was living back in Missoula, a recent Maggot convert. In 2011, his rugby past met his rugby present on the other side of the world.

“The guys I played for and with (at Middlebury), we all had a plan to get over to New Zealand for the World Cup,” Paddock said of the 2011 tournament held in Wellington. “I’d been playing for the Maggots and we all ended up crossing paths and playing on a combined side against some Kiwi teams.”

So it was that Middlebury became this year’s guest side. And it fits well, said Paddock, who will play most of this weekend with Middlebury, a squad of mostly alumni players from the school. Though on opposite ends of the United States, both places have the same rugby atmosphere.

“It’s kind of American rugby culture in both places,” he said. “On the field and off, it’s remarkably similar.”

But Maggotfest is far from a two-team waltz. Thirty-six teams – 24 men’s and 12 women’s – are scheduled to descend on Missoula for the weekend action. It makes for one of the biggest events of the year in Missoula, Maggots Club President Lance Oaas said.

Sporting or otherwise.

“As far as its impact and reach, I’ve been playing rugby all over the world and the country. If you’re wearing a Maggots shirt, people will come up to you and talk to you about it, tell you which year they were at Maggotfest.

“It lures in clubs from not just around the country, but all over the world.”

Previous guest teams – those competing in the opening match Thursday evening – have hailed from as far away as New Zealand and Australia.

The other matches this Thursday will feature the University of Montana Jesters against the Highway Men, a west coast touring side, at 4 p.m. Then the Old Boy Highway Men will play at 5:15 against the Maggot Old Boys – or Flies – in the lead-in match to the big showdown.

After a Friday in which the host Maggots will give the Middlebury side some Montana memories – white-water rafting on the Lochsa River and a trip through the Missoula bar scene – the rugby play kicks back up on Saturday.

The Maggots are scheduled to play at about noon on both Saturday and Sunday under blue skies and sunshine if the forecasts hold true.

A more perfect Maggotfest week would be hard to find, said Mike Day, chairman of this year’s event.

“It seems every game we played this year was either in 50 mph wind or sleet or snow,” Day said, “but it’s looking like God must be a Maggot because the weather for this weekend is supposed to be beautiful.”

Reporter AJ Mazzolini can be reached at (406) 781-3919 or at anthony.mazzolini@missoulian.com.

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