Q: How Do We Grow The Sport Of Rugby In The USA?
Rugby is a big part of our lives isn’t it? We break our bodies and cut up our skin to the point of scarring just to feel that thrill of scoring a try. So why shouldn’t we spread the word to each remote corner of the USA? The only issue with that, is numbers. We need numbers. We need support. So, RugbyNation asks, how do we grow the sport?
In the fall of last year, 2013, a small group decided to become the newest girls rugby team in Southern California. Though we hit roadblocks, namely pushback from the district about it not being a CIF sport, the girls team from Valhalla High School, called the Valkyries, competed in the green division of several sevens tournaments last winter. Though we broke up the team for club seasons, we are coming back to practice this fall. The difference this year, is we are growing into a boys team, JV and Varsity. What we found, if you are trying to start a team at your high school, putting the girls team first is a sort of, “back door,” if you will. For boys, their primary contact sport is football (even if we wish it was rugby!) However, for girls we have few contact sports. So for boys to come to the sports directors and ask to add another contact sport, mostly the school will not support the idea. But there is a sort of obligation on the schools part to provide equal opportunities to both girls and boys. So once a strong girls team is established, the boys start to wonder why they can’t play too. We figured this out from trial and error. A few boys, including my brother, have tried to start boys teams as VHS over the past few years. All attempts failed. Now, because we created a girls team first, we have support from the school, football coach, weight training coach, and athletic director.
Now comes our way of growing the sport. Our biggest recruiting tool as of this year, has been going though Rookie Rugby, and adding rugby as a unit in our Physical Education program. It exposes about 700 kids to the sport each school year. We had to get approval from our Athletic Director and P.E Advisor, but as of this year, rugby is part of the physical education curriculum. Serevi rugby has also extended camp offers to Valhalla high school to grow the sport. Through our growth, just in the past few weeks since Valhalla Rugby practice has started, our co-ed practices have blossomed from about 7 the first day, to 20+ within two weeks. Also, most of the VHS football team is planning on joining once football season ends, so the boys will have JV and Varsity sides. Once the rugby unit passes through the school curriculum we imagine that freshmen and sophomores alike will be flocking to practice.
The worldwide rugby community is not necessarily large. Strangers you may meet at a national game may know one of your teammates. Most people who have been playing for more than two years will have connections to even your national teams. Also, if you go anywhere in the world, whether it be New Zealand or Uruguay, you will find a local rugby team. And through that team you will be offered a couch to crash on, a team to play with, and help to find a job. Rugby is a family, so don’t we want to expand that family? Sometimes, the best thing you can do on a smaller scale, is talk to your nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and challenge them to come to a few practices with the local team. But on larger scales, build a team at your high school or college and get other well established organizations to back you up. Undoubtedly, it will have push backs, but it is by no means impossible. So gather a few friends, set to work, and spread your love for the sport!