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Columbus rugby players hail from varied backgrounds

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The Columbus Rugby Club, which draws its members from Columbus North and Columbus East high schools, isn’t looking for a specific body type.

As boys coach Matt Morrill said, rugby players come in all shapes and sizes and from many types of backgrounds.

The Columbus Rugby Club has both a boys team and a girls team.

Morrill and first-year girls coach Nicole Wells are looking for players to compete for Columbus this spring. Interested players and their parents can attend an informational meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Xenia Miller Room at The Commons.

“It’s a great sport,” Morrill said. “You have 15 guys on a side, and all 15 guys, when they go out there, are going to have to everything there is to do on the field. Every one of them is going to have to tackle and every one of them is going to carry the ball. It’s a lot of fun.”

Club president Travis Perry said a lot of the rugby players he’s had in the past have been wrestlers and hockey players.

But other players have little to no experience in sports programs.

“We used to get a lot of band guys,” Perry said. “We get some pretty amazing athletes out of that group. We’ve had guys that maybe never played a sport before, and all of a sudden, they’re playing a sport and really like it. I think it’s that way for the girls, too. You get girls coming out of the woodwork wanting to play.

“As far as a crossover sport, wrestling is pretty good,” he said. “Football is kind of counter-intuitive. In the past, we’ve gotten some soccer players. You have to be in great shape to play rugby.”

Morrill, who teaches at Columbus Signature Academy-New Tech, grew up playing football in New Jersey and at Delaware University and now plays on the Columbus men’s rugby team. He agrees that players can come from several other sports.

“We get players from a lot of different areas,” Morrill said. “There are pieces of every sport that work well. Understanding the flow of a game and quick transition like a basketball player makes great rugby skill. Wrestlers are used to contact. Football, it’s a very similar game. Cross-country, the fitness piece is super important.

“The beauty of it is that it takes all body types,” he said. “We need people that are small and quick. We need people who are tall. We need those big lineman types as well. We need an outstanding person who can kick the ball, as well, and can see the game and think a move or two ahead. There isn’t a prototypical rugby body.”

Morrill said most of all, players need to be able to think on their feet.

“It’s not a game where you get a lot of breaks and can take timeouts and send in a new play,” Morrill said. “It’s a bunch of young men and women who can make decisions and take charge. It’s a game that helps build character for young men and women. The coach is nothing more than a glorified spectator who gets to give a little pep talk here and there.”

Perry coached the boys team to a state high school club team championship in 2012, a year after Morrill coached the girls to the state finals. Last year, the girls had players, but no coach, so they were unable to have a team.

Wells, who played at Noblesville and while studying abroad in France, has played for the Indianapolis Hoydens women’s program for seven years. She now teaches in Brown County.

“I want to teach the fundamentals of rugby since it’s going to be kind of a building year for us,” Wells said. “One of my major goals also is to spread the love of the game. We hold socials after every match. That helps foster sportsmanship and camaraderie between players. It gives the players the opportunity to meet people from all over the state.”

Wells will be assisted by former Indiana University and national team player Tyra McGrady, the sister of Marcus Hurley, who will assist with the boys team.

Perry said the Columbus Rugby Club is working with PAAL, Foundation for Youth and a few elementary schools on an after-school rugby program for third- and fourth-grade boys and girls.

“We’d like to make rugby available from elementary school all the way up through high school,” Perry said.

Morrill said a ton of rugby experience isn’t required for players coming out for the high school teams.

“It’s new for a lot of them,” Morrill said. “We don’t have that pressure to have been a part of all the youth programs and everything like that. We have a lot of guys that are new to the club. There’s always a lot of teaching, and it’s always a lot of fun.”

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