Finding Rugby

Posted in Motion

Originating in England, Rugby has never been the most popular sport in the United States. Most athletes who want to get a little more rugged action than soccer or baseball play football.

I am a 15-year-old sophomore who in the past really enjoyed swimming. But as I got to high school, I knew I wanted a sport with contact and with more of a sense of team victory. When I asked my parents if I could play football, they declined, believing risk of injury was too high.

After a little searching, I found club rugby and joined the Berkeley Rhinos whose home ground is Gilman Field. The Rhinos are one of many high school rugby clubs in the Bay Area, drawing players from Berkeley High, St. Mary’s and Albany High. The sport is growing quickly in the Bay Area with lots of new players every year.

Traditionally in high school, athletes pursued sports that were at their school, where they could easily get to practice by walking to a gym or a field. Our generation is certainly accustomed to outside club sports, where athletes travel great distances year-round to practice and play sports like soccer, volleyball, baseball, to name a few. In terms of location the Rhinos are pretty convenient. Yet, playing rugby which many people feel is very European, initially felt a bit out of my comfort zone. My only experience with it was the short unit in P.E.

So, I decided to jump in this season and find out what this game is all about and if I had what it takes to play.

Rugby originated in the mid 1800s at a school in the town of Rugby, England where a student playing soccer caught the ball in midair and kept running with it until someone tackled him. Rugby has evolved into a full-fledged, international sport with tons of strategy and fast thinking, and where knowledge of the game outweighs speed and strength.

Some of the very best college teams — Cal and St. Mary’s — are located here. A version of the game, with seven players instead of 15, will be played at the next summer Olympics. The game is fast paced and doesn’t stop or doesn’t have downs. All 15 players on the field can and do advance the ball, playing both offense and defense. Rugby is also played without pads, gloves or helmets.

Sophomore Isaac Martin-Beer dragging Lamorinda defenders.

Sophomore Isaac Martin-Beer dragging Lamorinda defenders.

The Berkeley Rhinos have been around for more than a decade and have a men’s varsity and junior varsity team. Some high schools and many colleges have women’s teams. Many of the local high school and adult clubs have been started by men from England, Scotland or New Zealand who wanted their children to get into the sport.

Fellow new recruit and AHS sophomore Lewis Pietropoli said, “I’ve never played on a team with people before, my friends are doing it, and I thought it would be fun.” Hearing Lewis, I thought that it sounded like there wasn’t much to it and that I could indeed learn the game. It is also clear that friends do influence a lot of the decision to try new sports. I seriously doubt that Lewis or I would have joined if our friends weren’t involved. As soon as I started to look around at practice, I realized that mostly every person there had their own group of friends that they had joined with.

Sophomore Dylan Ransley advancing the ball against the Lamorinda Rugby Club.

Sophomore Dylan Ransley advancing the ball against the Lamorinda Rugby Club.

Varsity player and AHS junior Anthony Shear said, “My best friend brought me to a practice and I thought it was interesting.”

Shear continued: “Rugby is more than just a sport — the relationships we make with our teammates and coaches make us family and there’s nothing else like it.”

All in all people on the team seem to love the sport, including me. It is a very well rounded sport with good coaches and a good place to play.

The high school rugby season begins in December and runs well into March with matches against teams all around the Bay Area including Napa, Santa Rosa, Marin and Piedmont. Successful teams move on to regional play, and if good enough onto the national championship.

In the games that our team has played, I have noticed the speed, intensity, and up-closeness of it and now watching other people play, I can understand their feelings and the game. With each game that isn’t home, we get to go to a different field and see new people. With each visit everything is unique except for the rugby player’s want to play, win, and meet new people.