Story by Sarah Egger
Photos by Nate Compton
They were in the weights room talking to , and he wears Rugby shirts all the time,” senior Ryan Ellis said. “They went on to ask him about starting a rugby team at Northwest, and he said ‘If you guys can get 10 or 15 guys together, I can make a team.’ So they got a whole bunch of guys together, they got some money and bought jerseys.”
The rugby team was started by graduates Colin Middleton and Stewart Ralph last year.
“We all kind of fell in love with the sport immediately,” Ellis said. “Throughout the season we gathered more and more players, and the final game we played was at the state tournament. We placed third at state. That kind of adds respect to the sport. I think a lot of kids saw that.”
Because rugby is not KSHAA (Kansas State High School Athletics Association) sponsored, it does not qualify as a sport.
“There are a lot less hoops we have to jump through, since it’s not KSHAA sponsored,” Ellis said. “We don’t have to do orange cards, and we don’t have to do orange packets. It’s good because different colleges offer some scholarships; they treat it like a real sport.”
The previous year, they had trouble recruiting new players. The cougar rugby team is open to all male high school students around the area. They currently have players from Bishop Miege. To encourage others to participate in the sport, they have flyers posted around the school. Students were concerned that no padding would be used in the sport. Padding is not needed and slows the players down. This season they have 30 students signed up to participate.
“Most of the time we just tell people that contact is pretty much not a big deal, and it depends on what position you play.” Ellis said. “We tell people how fast we fell in love with it, and most of the time we get people to come to a practice or two and then they fall in love with it, too. They usually finish out the rest of the season. We have never had someone come out to a game, and then not play. They always finish out the season.”
The team practices Monday through Wednesday every week. Several schools around the area have rugby teams who compete almost every Saturday. The first rugby game of the season is scheduled for March 2 against Liberty. Because the schedule changes often, none of the games are set in stone.
“A lot of are just like Fight Club. No one tells you the location of it until the day of the game,” Ellis said. “A lot of times we will say ‘Alright guys, let’s drive out to Liberty, Mo., so everybody get in your cars.’ It’s always a fun experience to have six cars trying to follow the coach to Missouri.”
Ellis plans to continue playing rugby at the University of Arkansas.
“ the group of guys that taught me; it’s going to be really hard to move on to different coaches, styles of rugby, and different people,” Ellis said. “It’s always exciting to play at a higher level, but to leave the first people that taught you how to play is always rough. I’ll definitely miss that.”
“I love the sense of family that it gives you,” Ellis said. “Especially, in rugby, whenever you have to go out, you have to trust your teammates to protect you from getting hit by some massive guy on the field. It’s a little more trust you place in your guys, and it’s a little more sense of friendship that you get out there.”