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New Yorker High Schoolers Find Solace In Touch Rugby

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New Yorker High Schoolers Find Solace In Touch Rugby

High School rugby teams in New York are embracing touch rugby, which has proved to be a good way to get players back on the field while also making local and state officials feel comfortable with how contact is handled.

High school and even college students participated in a round of touch rugby games on two fields. The teams played for 10 minutes and then switched out, with four teams playing and one taking a rest.

Every high school player from the area was invited. They can come as a pre-formed team, or come as individuals and be put on a team. Some college players were invited to play and also serve as mentors. With this being touch rugby, any concerns about the strength difference between high school and college players are mitigated.

Sometimes the college players are distributed among the teams to act as mentors; sometimes they play as a team to coach by demonstration. The high school players can watch and see how more experienced athletes do it.

That's about the only coaching done. Coaches are encouraged to keep quiet and let the players play. There's a little time for coaching when players are sitting out, but the emphasis is on having fun and learning by doing ... or by making mistakes.

The teams and organizers are following COVID-19 protocols set out by the State of New York, with no handshakes, no hugs, touch rugby only, and masks for everyone.

"It has been a huge success," said Pelham HS Head Coach Matt Persanis, who has worked hard to organize it all. "The players are all smiling, laughing (we think as they're behind masks), having a great time, and raving about how much fun it is. In addition, they are all getting a chance to compete at something, get fitter, and develop pass-catch skills."

"This has been a life-saver," enthused Dylan Lewis, who graduated from Pelham HS last spring and was all set to attend Brown University and play rugby there. But COVID has put that on hold for now. "I had nothing to do, no way to keep my skills up other than working with my dad, and was really bored. It's been a lot of fun and it's keeping me sharp."

For current Pelham HS player Ash Mallach, playing touch rugby, even when you don't really keep score and switch up teams, is a welcome change from the shutdown summer.

"It's been great," Mallach said. "All summer we have been stuck in the house, or just doing nothing alone. This has been a great opportunity to have some fun and I am really learning a lot from the college players who have come back to help out. I cant wait to play in college."

The Town of Pelham recreation department was been instrumental in getting the event field space, while several coaches volunteered their time to help organize and assist the kids, including Jamie MCClellen, Justin Lewis, and Yohendy Martinez.

Tim Downey and Andy Buck stepped in to referee as voliunteers.