Sportsmanship At Its Best: Youth Rugby In The North State

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If you take up the sport called rugby, you will play on a pitch, in a scrum and in a ruck. You’ll aim for a try, which is worth 5 points. You might be called a flanker, a lock, a fly half, a wing or a full back. But regardless of what they call you, if you make a knock-on, a forward pass, or an obstruction, the referee will definitely give you a penalty and he will give you send off for unsportsman-like play. Oh, and you’ll love every minute of it!

Like all sports, rugby has a language of its own. Despite how unfamiliar that language is to many in Northern California, the sport has been here quite a long time … the first rugby teams in Chico started in 1918. More recently, in 2011, a group of dedicated volunteers re-established a rugby program here with the financial support of the Chico Police Officers’ Association. Redding has had a men’s team since 1999, and last year started a K-12 youth program that’s run through the Redding Recreation Department.

Rugby is often referred to as a “gentleman’s sport.” When our families first became involved in rugby, we wondered what on earth that could mean. First of all, it’s played by both boys and girls, and secondly, I couldn’t imagine how a sport that had such a reputation for roughness could be associated with the qualities of a gentleman. But we soon came to see that it is a sport that teaches friendliness, restraint, manners, character and camaraderie – all undeniably gentle qualities.

For example, after every rugby match, the two teams come together and shake hands – not unlike most sports – but the sportsmanship doesn’t stop there.
Everyone sits down and listens while the coaches say nice things about each other and about the players. They also make it a point to thank the parents for their support in getting the players to matches and practices.

Next, the captains of each team select a “Player of the Match,” and explain the reasons for their choice. Then a group picture is taken of both teams together. Impressed? There’s more. Finally, the coaches say something along the lines of: “Keep in mind you may end up on a team or in a job with those you opposed today, so be kind and get to know each other. Leave your rivalry on the field and let’s eat!”

We asked Frank Cook, who’s been playing with Chico Rugby for three years, to comment on rugby for this article. He said, “After the match we joke and eat and hang out. Sometimes that’s my favorite part.” His teammate Carter Addington, a second year player, says, “The best part of rugby is all the teamwork. We all work together and watch out for each other on the pitch.”

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The North State coaches have put a great deal of time and effort into building this program, yet they praise the other helpers and the parents; they know that their work alone cannot make a rugby community like the one we enjoy. Besides teaching the rules of the game, the coaches teach discipline and sportsmanship, and apparently, how to sweat and get filthy.

Rugby is a very physical sport and some parents worry about injuries. But the level of aggressiveness in youth rugby is carefully controlled by the referees (who are often the coaches of other teams). The younger the players, the tamer the game. Referees and coaches work hard to keep all players safe and healthy.

We think of rugby more as a community than as a sport, and love what belonging to this caring community has taught our children – they have more confidence and more empathy because of rugby, and we will always be fans of the game.

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Youth Rugby Resources in Upper California

Butte County: Chico Rugby Foundation Offers a free youth rugby camp for ages 7-18 (with limited space for 6-year-olds) held Oct. 18 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at Wildwood Park in Chico. Season Starts in December. For information about the clinic or the upcoming youth rugby league season, visit http://www.chicorugby.org or contact Mitch Jagoe at (530) 308-1092.

Shasta County: Redding Recreation Offers classes in Redding for youth in grades K-12, held October 7-30, Tues. and Thurs. evenings, 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Enterprise Park. For more information contact Brain Peterson at (530) 710-5107 or frodorugby@hotmail.com. [/sws_blue_box]

LaDawn Hal
About LaDawn Hal

LaDawn Hal, mother of three, is a CORE Butte High School teacher, Forest Ranch Charter School board member, and a former rugby parent.

Robin Cook
About Robin Cook

Robin Cook is a proud rugby mom living in Butte County. She almost knows the terms and positions well enough to cheer without embarrassing her son.

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