by Mike Petri
Two weeks ago I had my first experience with flag rugby through the Play Rugby USA program. The youth team I had been coaching with Christian Mayo in Manhattan had a tournament at Randalls Island here in New York City. I didn't realize it was a flag rugby tournament since these were the same kids that were practicing tackling technique but apparently they participate in both flag and tackle games. Of course the kids prefer the tackle version but I was so impressed with the flag game and how it has the potential to be so easily incorporated into a school's physical education program in an indoor setting.
Image - Troy Hall (USA/NyaC) coaching his side at recent rugby session
I had my flag rugby 101 crash course for about 60 seconds as the kids were warming up. It is an exciting and fast game to watch and the kids absolutely love it. My dad came out to see what it was all about and he, too, was really impressed with the concept to grow the game in a non-contact environment. We were competing in a round robin style tournament against other schools and teams from around the city. There were schools from Harlem, the Bronx, and even as far up as Pelham, who took second place overall in the tournament thanks in part to some great coaching by USA/NYAC teammate Troy Hall and NYAC coach Matt Persanis.
As for Manhattan, we were eliminated in the semifinals after a great effort all morning. As a coach it was really pleasing to see the kids take so many concepts on board and use them in the games. Their support play was superb and they put together some great phases. At the end of the day, Middle School 279 from the Bronx walked away with the Cup championship, displaying great rugby skills, tactics, and athleticism.
Like I said in my last blog, it's unbelievable to see such young kids running around with a rugby ball and understanding the game. And the good news is that they want to keep pursuing rugby! I know the PlayRugby ones in particular are seriously considering high schools in NYC, like Xavier, that offer rugby. I also met a guy this weekend whose 8 year old son goes to sleep-away camp in Pennsylvania where part of their international sports program is learning the basics of rugby. Turns out that it was his son's favorite part of the camp and he can't wait to go back next year just to play more. I really believe that the game will find continued success in coming years. The more elementary school P.E. teachers that implement rugby sessions into their classrooms the more interest and demand there will be for rugby at the high school level. It will naturally spill over as the kids grow and develop and seek to continue their careers.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to make last weekend's tackle tournament due to a conflict with my alumni weekend back at Penn State. It was great to see so many of my old teammates, friends, and coaches and spend time together but I missed being at the game with the kids. I received great reports from Christian Mayo who said they played fantastic and really came together as a team to win the 7th/8th grade game with a try at the buzzer!
The teams have taken a bit of a break now with winter and the Thanksgiving holiday coming up but will resume these tournaments in the spring. However, most of the school-initiated programs will continue to play indoors throughout the winter as part of an after school curriculum. It's been great to be involved and I hope to continue to participate in the program in the future.
Until next time... GO EAGLES!
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