PARKERSBURG - Organized rugby games have arrived in Wood County with a goal of developing players for West Virginia college teams.
Through the efforts of former Marshall University rugby players, a team of local high school students is playing in rugby tournaments for the first time this year.
The Mid-Ohio Valley High School Rugby Team, featuring students from Parkersburg and Parkersburg South high schools, along with Scott High School of Boone County, participated in a tournament last Sunday at Tri-C Fields along DuPont Road.
J.R. O’Brien, a freshman at Parkersburg High School, passes the ball as he gets tackled during a rugby match at Tri-C Fields on DuPont Road Sunday.
A team from Cabell Midland won the tournament, said Mid-Ohio Valley team coach Rusty Shanks. Brian Wilson is another MOV coach.
The day's activities included a safety clinic with players, games played by teams from Cabell Midland, Spring Valley, South Point and Mid-Ohio Valley, a closing prayer and pizza party for the players.
Local rugby players are Hunter Fiore of Parkersburg High School, J.R. O'Brien of PHS, Ryan Pritchard of Parkersburg South High School, Kwante Johnson of PHS, Isaac Mausali of PHS, Corey Johnson of Parkersburg South, Clayton Tichy of Parkersburg South, Zach Echard of Parkersburg South and Bryce Kupfner of PHS.
"It was a very successful first tournament for the state," said Shanks, who played on the rugby team at Marshall from 2000-05. There were 35 players on four teams with representatives from six high schools.
"The kids loved it and the parents seemed to enjoy it, eventually," Shanks said. There were no injuries with the emphasis placed on safety, said Shanks, who played football and wrestled at Parkersburg South High School.
Rugby is a safer sport than it is made out to be, Shanks said.
A second tournament will be this Sunday at Scott High School in Madison, W.Va., Boone County. The state championship will be the following week, Sunday, April 28, in Huntington.
Shanks said youth in grades 9-12 from the Mid-Ohio Valley can participate in the rugby program. Practices are held Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on the front campus of Parkersburg High School.
Marshall University Rugby started this program in the state with a goal of forming teams statewide and in Ohio, Shanks said.
"We are doing this in an attempt to create more rugby recruits for the three college sites in the state: Marshall University, West Virginia University and Wheeling Jesuit University," Shanks said. These three teams have moved to Division I in rugby and are playing against schools that are recruiting strictly from high school rugby teams in their state, he said.
The three schools in West Virginia must recruit people who have never touched a rugby ball or seen a game and send them on the field three weeks later against good rugby teams from across the nation, Shanks said.
"This has caused declines in the programs, which the high school rugby will cure," Shanks said.
The rugby program gives youth another option for obtaining scholarships toward attending college, Shanks said.
Wheeling Jesuit has begun offering full scholarships for rugby, Shanks said. "They are having trouble finding recruits and have been forced to find kids from the other side of the country," he said.
Shanks said this league will be worth the time and money to him if just one local resident can get a full ride to college by playing rugby.
Marshall Rugby has pledged some scholarship money, he said. Through golf scrambles and other fundraising, the local league hopes to be able to offer a small scholarship to the best senior rugby player in the Mid-Ohio Valley by next spring.
Rugby, a type of football game, involves kicking and dribbling with the foot and continuous passing of the ball. The game is popular in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France.