Goff Rugby Twitter     Goff Rugby Facebook

Program Spotlight: Fort Hunt

irish rugby tours

Program Spotlight: Fort Hunt

Fort Hunt in action against Gregory the Great in 2020. David Hughes photo.

With Goff Rugby Report’s recent long-term high school rankings, listing teams based on our end-of-season rankings from the past six seasons, a few programs stood out, and one of them is Fort Hunt.

The ten-year-old Virginia program is the only East Coast team in our six-year HS Club Top 10, and is one of only two (the other being #1 Royal Irish) east of the Mississippi. But despite not being an especially old program, Fort Hunt has consistently ranked among the top clubs in the country.

Combined HS Rankings: HS Club 2015-2020

Most of that is because the Warriors have a strong cadre of good clubs and very strong single-school teams to play in their area, and they are not afraid to travel for a tough game.

“We travel a lot,” concurred Head Coach Dale Roach. “The kids love it. We play good teams because we want to play the best teams in the country. Yes we might lose, but we come out of that knowing what we need to work on. This year we played a very good Xavier team and lost. A couple of years ago we went down to Charlotte and got our butts handed to us by Raleigh and the Tigers. It works to keep our kids in check. Everyone thinks they’ve got a good time, but as I tell the guys, there’s always someone out there that could eat our lunch.”

Putting themselves in position to lose helps Fort Hunt get better at rugby, which is the point, at least sometimes. It also helps their ranking place as a win or a close loss against a well-regarded opponent does a lot more for a team’s ranking that an undefeated season in a weak league. 

Winning Not The Goal

But all of that, for Roach and his coaching staff, is a by-product of their main mission—to develop strong young men to be leaders.

In the club’s statement of purpose, the word winning never shows up. 

“It’s all about culture,” said Roach. “We work on culture all the time. We say that if we’re not managing the culture of the team, then the culture is managing us.”

So that means making sure the players don’t get too caught up in wins and losses.  They make sure all of the kids are enjoying their time on the team. And that shows its worth when the players recruit new athletes to the club, and when parents remain to help the club long after their sons have graduated and moved on.

“We belong to a really good local youth association and our coaches are certified with the Positive Coaching Alliance,” said Roach, who then adds that the PCA concept of filling a player’s emotional tank is part of the coaches’ banter during practice. “We’ll say ‘fill the tank, fill the tank’ and the kids don’t really know what we’re saying but we are always reminding ourselves as coaches.

Players Do The Recruiting

Fort Hunt started in 2011 after the kids who aged out of the Fort Hunt youth program started by John Dacey said they wanted to stay together and play in high school. Playing in Rugby Virginia’s D2, they started with a group of 17 and expanded to 24 by the season’s end. And they did pretty well, going 10-2 and making the state semifinals. Roach told the boys that after that, “we will never play in D2 again.” But, he added, to play in D1 they needed 35 players. So, since all of his 2011 players were returning, he tasked them with bolstering the numbers.

That they did, and Fort Hunt routinely carries a roster of 60 now, and to this day, it's the players who do the recruiting.

Frosh-Soph All-Stars

Managing that roster of 60 takes a lot of coaches, and at Fort Hunt, they have a special additional plan to make sure the younger players have buy-in. When the season is over, the juniors and seniors are encouraged to play select side rugby with whatever team they prefer. But the freshmen and sophomores are reassembled into a team to play in the JV brackets of all-star tournaments.

“All of the varsity coaches switch up and put all our focus on the freshmen and sophomores,” said Roach. 

Players, then, who might not have been starting to getting a lot of time on the 1st team now get complete feedback on what they need to do, and then the opportunity to prove that. Young players become even more invested in the program, and more convinced the varsity coaches know who they are.

“They feel a part of the program and they come back the next year better.

And all of that results in winning rugby games, but winning it’s the goal, it’s the result. The approach, said Roach, is always to find challenges, and develop young people into young adults.

Fort Hunt Record Since 2011
2011: 10-2-0 State Semifinals
2012: 13-3-0 Virginia State Champion
2013: 11-3-0 Regional Playoffs
2014: 14-1-0 Virginia State Champion
2015: 11-3-0 State Runner-up
2016: 15-1-0 Virginia State Champions
2017: 17-2-0 National Championship Runner-up, Ranked #3 in the Nation, Mid-Atlantic Premier League Champion, Virginia State Champion
2018: 19-4-1 National Championship Third Place, Ranked #5 in the Nation, Mid-Atlantic Premier League Runner-up, Virginia State Runner-up, Midwest RAST JV Runner-up
2019: 15-5-0 Virginia State Champions at the Varsity and JV
2020: 4-1-0. This included games against ranked opponents Xavier (the lone loss), Berks Co., and Gregory the Great.