By Ryan Kaczmarski
Ten years ago, the new kid on the block was the sport of lacrosse, which was touted as the fastest growing sport in the United States of America. Now, the sport of rugby is being played in the spring season, and it is trying to follow in lacrosse’s footsteps.
Local communities, such as Lakewood, Avon and Avon Lake have had successful rugby clubs for a few years now, but for the first time, student-athletes from Rocky River, Westlake, Fairview Park, Bay Village and the Westpark area of Cleveland have come together to make up the Rocky River Black Pirates Rugby Club.
“This is our first year playing at the high school level,” President and coach of Pirate High School Rugby (and coach of fifth- and sixth-grade rugby, as well as Rookie Rugby) , John McKenna said. “We have had a program in place for several years now in what we call ‘Rookie Rugby,’ which begins in fifth grade and up. (Rookie Rugby) is flag rugby, kind of like flag football. It’s an introduction to the sport, because there is not that much known about the sport locally, in general. It’s like how lacrosse was perceived 15-20 years ago.
“Now, there are junior lacrosse programs everywhere, and that’s where rugby is trying to get to. It’s gaining momentum as one of the fastest growing sports in the country.”
According to cnbc.com, there were 1.6 people playing lacrosse in 2011 (which was a jump of 218.1 percent from the previous year), which made it the fastest growing sport, with rugby coming in with more than one million people playing in 2011, up 50.7 percent from 2010.
The immense growth of the sport means that some players are learning rugby for the first time, while playing at the high school level.
“In Ohio, it’s growing very, very rapidly,” McKenna explained. “Mostly our seniors are the ones playing for the first time, and they have transferred tremendously from the other sports that they were playing.
“We have quite a few wrestlers out there.”
The bulk of the high school roster is made up of Rocky River High School students, with 13 of the 24 players hailing from there, followed by Westlake High School with seven, and one each from Bay Village, Fairview Park and Cleveland.
“There were four of us who got this up and running, with three hailing from Rocky River and the fourth from Bay Village,” McKenna said.
The roster consists of Henry Annen (Cleveland, Westpark), Sean Baxley (Rocky River), Albert Becker (Rocky River), Karl Desler (Westlake), Michael Gallagher (Fairview Park), Ryan Gilboy (Rocky River), Gavin Gill (Rocky River), Riley Hundt (Westlake), Spencer Klodnick (Rocky River), Ravi Kobetic (Rocky River), Owen Kruger (Westlake), Stephen Leprevost (Rocky River), Sean Meaney (Bay Village), Adonovan Morman (Westlake), Owen Hundt (Westlake), Josh Pappas (Westlake), Daniel Roth (Rocky River), Joshua Stark (Rocky River), Ryan Steele (Rocky River), Matthew Thompson (Westlake), Morgan Vaughan (Rocky River), Samuel Wolf (Rocky River) and Lucas Zodo (Rocky River). Eamon Curry is the head coach.
The sport can be played by athletes of all shapes and sizes.
“As we like to say, it’s a sport for everyone,” McKenna stated. “The big guy, there’s a role for him. The smaller, but quick guy is needed also.
“There’s big, stocky kids; there’s tall, lanky kids; then there’s the small, fast kids. It’s one of those sports where there’s a position for you out there somewhere.”
The team currently sits at 4-0 on the season (3-0 in Rugby Ohio Division 2AA – Region 1 play), with its most recent victory coming over the St. Ignatius B/C team last Saturday.
If you have never seen the sport played in person, there are three games left in the regular season for the Black Pirates, with a match at Lake Catholic scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m., a home game on Sunday against Shaker Heights (at Impett Park at 1 p.m.) and the season finale at Lakewood on May 11 at 2 p.m.
For more information, check out the Rocky River Black Pirates on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PirateRugby, or on twitter @BlackPirateRFC, where their motto is “Mud and Blood.”