WARSAW — After coaching middle school rugby, Dugan Julian realized area players needed more training prior to entering middle school. The kids were playing teams who acted like they had been “touching rugby balls since they could crawl” according to Julian.
Jacob Crone, a middle school assistant rugby coach for a year and PE teacher at Madison Elementary, teamed up with Julian to make some changes.
The popularity of rugby is on the rise throughout the country and Kosciusko County. Still there are many people who don’t know it is available in this area. In the Warsaw Community School Corporation, rugby has been available at the high school level for 16 years and at the middle school level for seven years. Julian commented, “And half the community still doesn’t even know it’s a sport.”
This led Julian, who played rugby in high school, and Crone, who played while attending Grace College, to begin a Rookie Rugby League last year. The league takes place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Aug. 20 through Sept. 26, at Madison Elementary School, Warsaw. It is open to any boys and girls in second through sixth grade. They have had players come from as far away as Culver to learn. Last year 21 kids came to learn the sport. This year they are hoping for even more.
In order to prepare the kids to play on a rugby team, Julian and Crone must first start with the basics. A knowledge of the rules and correct form are necessary early on so the player can then find what they are good at in the sport. “We work on running with the ball, catching, passing, passing backward while running forward,” Crone explained.
In rookie rugby the kids learn the continuous play of the sport. “At this age, we teach them how to stay spaced out and not create a gap,” Crone mentioned, which aids in overall spatial awareness.
The sport “teaches them to see space,” Julian added. Since it is all about the ball, the players must be able to trust their teammates to stay spaced out while also seeing where the ball needs to go. Since play is nearly nonstop, the players must make the split second decisions which “teaches kids how to adapt to changing situation,” Julian continued.
Since rugby is a full contact sport, safety is also of the utmost importance. There is no difference in boys teams and girls teams when it comes to contact or padding. However, since the ball must be passed backward, a collision typically only occurs between two individuals and players prefer to avoid collision whenever possible. The Rookie Rugby League only plays flag rugby with no tackling. However, learning these basic skills will better prepare them to learn avoidance and collision safety when they join a school team.
This month-long rookie rugby focuses on practicing together with boys, girls and all age groups working on the skills together as a group. At the end of each practice and on the last day of the league, the kids will be able to enjoy running scrimmages to put these skills to the test. “It’s kind of like an organized game of keep away,” Julian laughed.
Rugby is also a sport about respect where all players are included and the most important thing is the love of the game. Kids learn leadership, communication and quick decision making while giving officials the necessary respect. The positions in rugby are all very similar with minute differences so anyone can find something they’re good at and everyone gets a chance to touch the ball and be included.
Overall, rugby players are “all here to just play,” Julian emphasized.
For more information on the Rookie Rugby League visit www.rugbyindiana.com/page/show/3952070-rookie-rugby-warsaw or the Warsaw Area Rugby Club Facebook page.