Growth of rugby continues in Blair County

In early February, three boys from the Blair United/Hollidaysburg Rugby team visited Bishop Guilfoyle High School with an intent to recruit boys to rugby. Instead, girls expressed interest, and within a couple of weeks, a new girls high school rugby team was in formation.

By March, Summer Lauber and Sophia Dellinger took over coaching duties. By May, 18 girls were practicing and playing rugby in exhibition games against State College and Moon Area, and finished 2-2. The girls loved their new sport, and with only four seniors graduating, will return a strong team to play a full season in 2020.

One player, Aubrie Sipes, was chosen to the Rugby PA All-State Junior Varsity team. She traveled to the Northeast Regional Cup Tournament in Springfield Mass. at the end of June. Sipes scored a try in the final game against New York and was selected to the all-tournament team.

The boys team had more than 32 boys from four area schools and finished 6-3 and placed fifth in Division 2 Rugby PA. The team has more than 20 underclassmen returning for the spring of 2020.

Three of those boys also traveled to Springfield for the Northeast RCT. Trent Paddock, a rising senior at Hollidaysburg, scored multiple tries in games against Western NY and Connecticut. Gus Dellinger and Sam Haines, recent Hollidaysburg graduates, also played and were selected to the all-tournament team. Dellinger and Haines are continuing their career at Kutztown and University of Mary Washington, two of the top 25 college rugby programs in the US.

The boys and girls senior class of 2019 was special — 12 boys started playing rugby in eighth grade as a new club and sport to the region, and now have more than 50 boys and girls playing rugby in Blair County — a feat that no one envisioned back in 2015. Four senior girls joined us this year and with only a few practices, provided important leadership for the future of girls rugby in the region.

Growing rugby is important to players, coaches and parents. On July 27 and 28, coaches and players will be holding a rookie rugby clinic at the Blair Regional YMCA in Hollidaysburg. We will be teaching the basics of rugby to young players, ages 6-12. No contact, all touch rugby with fun games and activities to introduce the game. Register at the YMCA.

Six million men, women, boys and girls play rugby throughout the world. The men’s World Cup will start in September, with New Zealand once again the favorite. Here in the United States, professional men’s rugby is Major League Rugby with nine teams and expansion on the horizon. Colleges are offering financial assistance for rugby players, and high school rugby continues to grow in the U.S.

Most importantly, rugby is a valuable activity that teaches lifelong lessons. We like to say “Rugby is Life.” Like in life, you get knocked down, get back up again, wipe off your clothes, mend bruises, make mistakes, succeed, fail, work as a team, congratulate the winners, console the losers, make friends and most importantly, learn how to be grateful for what you have and appreciate the sportsmanship and respect of your team, referee and fans. We don’t play against our opponents, we play with them — the referee is called sir or ma’am. Respect and sportsmanship still exist.

Andy Haines is the coach of the Blair United/Hollidaysburg boys rugby team