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Proof That HS Select Side Play is Possible in the Fall

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Proof That HS Select Side Play is Possible in the Fall

Young Glory vs North Carolina at the Old North State tournament. Photo Katie Beatty.

Efforts are being made in various circles to revitalize all-star or select-side HS rugby, but the efforts have had to navigate COVID shutdowns, the emergence of the MLR, and the changing calendar.

While June has been the traditional time for select side events, and we’re seeing the emergence of the Buckeye Classic and the return of the Rocky Mountain Classic, there are other ways to go about it all.

We are seeing a drift away from state-based organizations running their own select sides, and at the same time MLR teams are, sometimes, taking up the baton with their academy sides. Those academy efforts have varied from team to team, mostly because it depends on what the MLR organization wants to focus on—young players? Players just short of top team selection? Community outreach?

So now we take a look at this past fall. The fall is a time where we see HS 7s, but we don’t see a lot of high-school-age selecting side play. The theory goes that many top players are playing another sport at that time. That’s a theory that, these days, doesn’t pass the real-world test.

North Carolina

In November, North Carolina hosted the Old North State Invitational at Raleigh Rugby Club which included select sides for boys and girls, with two North Carolina teams in each bracket, plus one Ohio Aviator Academy team in each bracket. Added to that were the Atlanta Valkyries in the Girls bracket and the Young Glory Academy, the academy team of the Old Glory MLR team. More on them in a moment.

North Carolina Blue won both brackets, with Ohio Aviators taking third in each. Atlanta took 2nd among the girls and Young Glory took 2nd among the boys.

The Boys Championship match was between Young Glory and NC All-Star Blue. Young Glory defeated NC All-Star Blue 22-21 to start Day Two with a decisive penalty goal from Kieran Downs (Gonzaga) making the difference. This made it so that Young Glory and NC-All Star Blue were both 2-1 overall at the tournament coming into the Championship match. 

On Day One, Young Glory were edged by the Aviators 10-7 in the opening game.

In the Championship rematch between Young Glory and NC Blue, Quinlan Miller (Cardinals/South Meck) scored an early try off defensive pressure at a.lineout. Captain Zach Colson followed off that with a breakaway off a Young Glory turnover created by his younger brother Max Colson. Zach Colson would later slot a penalty goal with under a minute left to secure the lead for NC All-Star. 

Charlotte Tiger Jameson Beatty led the tournament with four tries while Colby Marr (Hough/Cardinals) and Zach Colson (Hough/Cardinals) were top forward and back.

That was an excellent showing from North Carolina, being able to field two select sides each for boys and for girls. They won both brackets at this tournament, and showed that it is possible to provide a select-side experience even during the fall.

Young Glory

This past year former Eagle Ben Cima took on the Young Glory Academy program. After retiring from rugby he returned to rugby to coach, first in Seattle (where he had been playing for the Seawolves), and then back in the DC area (where he had led Gonzaga to a national HS championship).

“I talked with different people from my rugby career, even my freshman year soccer coach, and people like Lee Kelly and Salty Thompson, people wh had a hand in molding me, to figure out what was right for me,” Cima told GRR.

Before his untimely death from cancer Lee Kelly had helped Cima get reconnected with the game in DC and he started talking with Old Glory owner Paul Sheehy and also with Tim Brown, who headed up the Young Glory program at the time.

“I started working with Young Glory and that role started to grow,” said Cima. “Within a few hours I thought ‘I need to stay here as long as they’ll have me.’”

The key, said Cima, was figuring out what the Academy was. In July he took over the program and started to look at what would work and, crucially, what he was able to handle.

“I thought, what would I want if I was a kid in this situation?” Cima explained. “The first thing I thought of was that they need to play more rugby. We can’t say we’re doing anything unless we’re playing more rugby.”

Ben Cima shares his observations with the Young Glory players. Photo Young Glory Academy.

Ben Cima shares his observations with the Young Glory players. Photo Young Glory Academy.

So he went about securing field space and getting training sessions in. Then he started looking for opponents. Old Eagle teammate Pete Malcolm (they both earned their first caps on the same day) connected Cima with Malcolm’s former Wheeling University teammate Alan Hanson and the Aviators program. The Aviators had been building a U18 program and plan throughout 2022 and 2023 and had been active in the Buckeye Invitational as part of that. So now they had an opponent. Then Cima learned about the Trevor Caterson in North Carolina, who connected him with NC Boys Head Coach Michael Markofski. Now there were three programs with similarly-aligned goals.

“Once we had that and the fields we could commit to having kids playing and getting some professional coaching into these kids,” said Cima. Despite concerns about too many kids being off playing football, the Young Glory program had over 80 register for the academy.

They played a tournament in North Carolina, an intrasquad game, then played North Carolina and the Aviators on different days before ending with the Old North State Invitational described above.

“It was awesome,” said Cima. “We had 32 training sessions and averaged about 55 kids. We had Old Glory pros in there, guys I knew like Jamason [Faanan Schilz], [Jack] Iscaro, Mike Dabulas. We had Abby Gustaitis and several of the players from the NOVA women’s side come out. The kids really responded.

“With an academy you really start with a clean slate,” Cima added. “You don’t have the history or baggage of a school or club team. You come in with a fresh pair of eyes and deal with the kids head-on.”

They worked on rugby skills but also film analysis, nutrition, and proper use of the gym. Players were driving in from southern Virginia to participate.

This is an example of how MLR teams, and, for that matter, regions without an MLR team, can do it. Cima said he wants more girls to come but hopes to build on that in the future. And while over 25 schools and clubs were represented in the Young Glory program, it’s no surprise that Gonzaga, Vienna, and Fort Hunt made up the bulk of the players … for now.

“A lot of people were saying: ‘it’s not a good time; it’s football season; not enough will want that at this time,’” said Cima. “I can’t accept that and I don’t think it’s the reality. We had 50 to 60 kids to every single session. This was when we put it together on fairly short notice. We hadn’t done anything yet. Now that we have a year under our belt; we’re close with the Aviators and North Carolina and that kids know we will play and that it’s a serious program, I am sure we will grow.”