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Over 150 Players at EIRA Camp

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Over 150 Players at EIRA Camp

Action on game day at the end of camp. Alex Goff photo.

Over 150 high school rugby players spent last week in Elkhart, Ind. in a development camp and series of games with Eagle Impact Rugby Academy.

The event was held at the Moose Rugby Grounds in Elkhart, a facility run by Penn HS Head Coach Bart Bottorff and one he has worked tirelessly to oversee. The players continually went up to Bottorff to thank him for his work, and those attending noted how he did extra things like cutting the grass and relining the fields during the mid-day break so the fields were always in top playing condition.

"I always say if you find a weed here I'll eat it," said Bottorff, and indeed the three fields were all grass.

"Coming from Arizona where it's all dirt, this is beautiful, blankets of grass, wide open spaces," said Ioan Diamara.

The players were divided into training groups through the week, but often they were mixed with players from outside their region. The idea was to break down walls, and then see players build new bonds.

"The feature here has been to blend kids from all over the country, purposely room with somebody from another state; you see them grow," said EIRA Program Director Salty Thompson. "You see it happen, the way they cluster in groups it's not 'this group's from this area ...' They're bonding."

The camp was the culmination of two weeks of camps for EIRA, with about 120 attending the first week, which was for girls and for younger boys, and then the U18 boys this past week. So that's about 270 young athletes getting intense coaching from well-respected coaches, and tough competition at the end of it all.

It's a combination of the select-side play we had been seeing at the regional all-star tournaments (which we haven't seen since 2019), and a non-competition camp. This covered both.

Next up for EIRA, by the way, will be more of the way of competition, with two boys teams in the U18 Invitational bracket of the NAI 7s, which kicks off this Friday, a team in the U16 Boys bracket, and a team in the U16 Girls bracket.    

For the players, the desire was to learn. Many talked about playing with and against players who have a different style of rugby. And while the players were happy to get back on the field this spring, it wasn't always about playing at the highest level, and so this camp gave aspiring players a chance to test themselves.

"The organization and the structure of both the coaches and the players, the high level of rugby that's introduced by players from all over the country, has really brought my level of rugby up," said Dimaria. "I'm looking to ... take a little piece of EIRA with me everywhere I go." 

"Having the best players from around the country really forces you to step up your game," added Nicholas Davis from Eastside Lions in Washington."

"You've got kids from all over the country, way better skill levels, and we're all developing as players and teammates," added Lucas Ring, who played for Brentwood RFC in England.