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Chicago Lions Hires Mark Santiago as Youth Director

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Chicago Lions Hires Mark Santiago as Youth Director

Chicago Lions are upping their Youth Rugby game.

The Chicago Lions Rugby organization, established in 1964, has hired Mark Santiago as their new Director of Youth Rugby and Women’s 15s Head Coach.

The Chicago Lions merged the Wapiti Youth Program into the Chicago Lions in 2019. The Chicago Lions started their Women’s 15s program in 2018 and were D1 Midwest Champions before COVID halted their campaign for a 2020 National Championship. As Women’s 15s Head Coach, Santiago will be responsible leading the Women’s Fifteens Rugby program and coordinating with other Chicago Lions Rugby program leaders.

As the Director of Youth Rugby, Santiago will be responsible for all operational aspects of the youth rugby program including player and coach development and recruitment. The youth program for the Chicago Lions includes overseeing the After-School Program and the Pathway Program. The After-School Program is in four different Chicago public schools as well as two private schools. The Pathway Program, which includes Rookie Rugby, Middle School Boys and Girls and High School Boys and Girls Summer Programming, provides rugby programming for local youth camps and the Chicago Park District.

More About Mark Santiago

Mark Santiago started playing rugby at University of Illinois at Chicago after being a D1 baseball player. Santiago played for the Chicago Lions for over ten years and captained the club for two years. He also played professionally in South Africa and won a Gold Medal for Maccabi USA Rugby in Israel at the World Maccabi Games. Santiago played All-Star Rugby for CARFU for eight years, Midwest for six, and was in the Eagle pool for several years.  

After his playing days, Santiago got into coaching where he capped off a 10-year professional coaching career by coaching for USA Rugby in 7s, where he headed up the developmental program.  He began his coaching career as Head Coach for Chicago North Shore.  The club was a social team in D2 when Santiago started there, and by the time he left seven years later it was ranked in the top six in the country in D1. 

Santiago also coached select sides for CARFU women and men 15s as both a head and assistant. He started the Midwest Women’s 7s program and built it from having no National Team players and only one Midwest senior player to a program of four sides (Senior, Developmental, U21, and U18), with a national championship and had six of the 12national team players on the USA squad that was ranked #2 in the world behind New Zealand. As an assistant he took the US Women’s National Team to Barbados and won the tournament with only one try scored against them. Santiago was also an Assistant Coach for Maccabi USA Rugby.

Santiago started his full-time professional sports career eight years ago in the highly competitive youth baseball market in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Most recently, he was with Diamond Grind Baseball Academy.  Known for growing programs from the ground up, Santiago has always worked on player development.

“I am so blessed and humbled to be returning to my rugby club of 10 years," Santiago said. "I am so exciting to sink my teeth into the Director of Youth Rugby as well as go after a National Championship on the women's side.”

New Home For Youth Rugby

With the completion of the J. Tyke Nollman Field at the Lions for Hope Complex, the Lions have their own home and a holistic rugby organization that starts with the Youth Program progressing to the Men's and Women’s 15s and 7s. 

“We are very excited to have Mark back in the Lions organization where can grow our programs and continue our outreach to build our relationships with community organizations," said Chicago Lions President Jeff Simon. "Mark’s combination of coaching Women’s rugby at the highest level and his success at youth player development on and off the field made him uniquely qualified to take us to the next level.”

Chicago Lions Rugby is part of the CLCA (Chicago Lions Charitable Association) which is a 501(c)3 organization and in 2015, The CLCA partnered with Chicago Hope Academy to build the Lions for Hope Sports Complex, a premier rugby centric facility, in the North Lawndale/East Garfield Park community.  Chicago Hope Academy is an inner-city Christian school catering predominantly to minority youths, which was started in 2005 by Bob Muzikowski, a former Columbia University and Old Blue NY flanker. 

For more information, contact Jeff Simon at 847-921-0872 or email chicagolionsclca@gmail.com