Rugby is not the #1 sport in Iowa but native Tom Billups looks at the impact the state has made to the game and what Chris Draper is doing with the Iowa High School Rugby Association to make the state a rugby hotbed.
by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
I am an Iowa native, born and raised in the Southeast corner of the “Tall Corn” state. Unfortunately, rugby is something slightly less than a minority sport in the state. Late last year, fellow Iowa native and current resident, Chris Draper, set out to change that by creating the Iowa High School Rugby Association (IAHSRA).
The IAHSRA aims to “accelerate the growth of rugby in Iowa over a wide range of leagues and teams,” as stated on the IAHSRA website. “The IAHSRA is committed to supporting boys and girls rugby, from non-contact recreational leagues to full contact All-State teams.” Furthermore, the IAHSRA is not only working to grow rugby, it is striving to provide a high calibre rugby experience. Ultimately, the IAHSRA aims to produce future rugby Olympians.
The IAHSRA’s first-ever multiple day camp opens on Wednesday July 13th. Chris Draper, along with two current Iowa international stars, will host the state-wide high school sevens team camp.
The IAHSRA has chosen sevens as its primary driver because of the less technical nature of sevens compared to fifteens, but does support both versions of the game. Inexperienced high school athletes will be able to quickly grasp the game of sevens because the format provides players more touches of the ball during a match. Additionally, sevens offers a low cost field sport alternative for high school athletic directors and parents looking for a new, high paced game to offer their kids.
Historically, rugby has been in existence for decades in Iowa. Credit Island, a public park positioned on the southern edge of Davenport, Iowa in the Quad City metro area, was the site of USA Rugby’s first-ever collegiate national championships in 1980. The Quad City Irish rugby club won the national club sevens championship title during the late eighties, demonstrating what clubs from the Midwest are capable of. Key individuals, like Earl Strupp, have contributed mightily to keeping rugby alive in Iowa. Strupp has held positions at every level of administration with Iowa rugby and has managed or coached several teams in East Central Iowa and West Central Illinois during his decades of service to the game.
There are currently two national team players that call Iowa their home state. Mark Bokhoven has made an impact on the international sevens circuit since making his debut in 2004. Bokhoven, a former Iowa State Cyclone, worked hard to overcome injury to establish himself as one of a small number of born and bred Iowans to make the United States National Sevens team. Tall, fast, and athletic, like Dan Kilen who preceded him on the Eagles sevens team, Mark has proven himself capable of competing with the World’s best in international sevens.
Paul Emerick is another Iowa Eagle. Emerick, a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, used his high school football and wrestling experiences to become a driving force behind the Panther’s run at a national collegiate division II rugby championship a little over a decade ago. Since then, he has become one of the most storied backline players to ever play for the United States. Emerick is approaching his third Rugby World Cup, a globally recognized distinction of continued performance for test match veterans. Not bad for a kid from Pella.
Chris Draper was an over-achieving hooker at the University of California. Chris pushed his academic and rugby pursuits to the upper echelons, earning a Ph.D while working his way up the USA Rugby referee ranks to become one of only a handful of U.S. referees who have officiated an IRB test match. Upon retiring from refereeing, Draper has turned his considerable intellect toward growing the game of rugby by founding the IAHSRA.
Iowa isn’t the only agricultural state that plays rugby, but it is unique in having these men, plus others, join forces at the Iowa National Guard at Camp Dodge to give back to rugby and the state that provided them their first rugby experience.
Iowa’s soil is great for growing things; perhaps Iowa will also be an important site for cultivating rugby Olympians.
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