SportsEvents Magazine

JUL 2018

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Page 26 of 59 July 2018 27 "Rugby is such a great sport because the way the sport is designed means that everyone on the field participates in every- thing going on," said USA Rugby Youth and High School Director Kurt Weaver. "In rugby, you won't be picked on a team and then stuck just standing around waiting to participate. You will be involved in the action." USA Rugby currently boasts a mem- bership of approximately 131,000 – which has increased greatly every year since 2006, when membership was just 50,000. While interest in the sport has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years, perhaps nothing solidifies rugby as a serious sport than officially becoming an Olympic sport. In the early 1900s, rugby appeared in the Olympic Games but was removed from roster of Olympic sports after 1924. Until 2011, when USA Rugby became a full sport member of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and was recognized by the USOC as the governing body of the sport in the United States. In the 2016 Summer Games, the sport was officially reintroduced as an Olympic sport in Rio de Janeiro. "To be part of the Olympics is huge," said Weaver. "Having the opportunity to be a part of the Olympic Games shows kids all over America that rugby is no longer just something you do for fun. They can play in high school, college, go pro and even play on the Olympic team now. Being in the Olympics really rounds out the opportu- nities rugby offers. It shows rugby can be just a fun sport to play but also is a sport for elite athletes who want to partake too." Young athletes are getting the chance to experience the international Olympic-style exposure with the Youth Olympic Games, which are planned for every four years and held for both summer and winter sports, just like the Olympics. This year the summer format will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in October, and rugby will be included. "High school-aged kids from across the world all participate and get together and play," Weaver said. "Our Boys Youth Olympic Team qualified to participate this fall, and again, that's great exposure for the sport." Another way rugby is being brought to the forefront of the sports world is through USA Touch and its partnership with USA Rugby. USA Touch is participating in the 2018 Youth Touch World Cup, which will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in August. USA Touch and its participation in the Junior World Cup is an important part of USA Rugby's National Team development. The Touch World Cup will start in April 2019, bringing together the best players only a few months ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, which takes place from Sept. 30 through Nov. 2. In addition to the Olympic teams and USA Touch, USA Rugby is also making sure to provide athletes at younger ages and levels with opportunities for play. For the youth and high school games, the organiza- tion has hired rugby development officers in four regions of the country: Northern California, Greater Austin (Texas), Philadelphia (Pa.) and Boston (Ma.). With these four now in place, USA Rugby officials are hoping to have two more added by the end of the year in two new regions. "These development officers are working specifically on pre-high school youth development, so they are getting young kids playing mostly flag rugby and kicking off our youth leagues," Weaver said. "They are also integrating our leagues into more YMCAs, community park programs and other local programs, as well as physical education classes in schools. It has been a great program for us because it has gotten the word out in communities that wouldn't have rugby otherwise." Also illustrating the rise of rugby and its growing popularity is that it is now a sanctioned high school varsity sport for both boys and girls in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) officially added the sport as of 2017, making the state the first to add rugby as a varsity sport. "It's great that rugby officially has that status in Massachusetts," Weaver said. "The MIAA has been a great partner of ours to grow rugby within Massachusetts and start new high school programs. Because of that, we've seen more interest from high school administrators and athletic directors, and as colleges see the talent at more high schools they will want the sport at their schools to attract more students. We're so excited that Massachusetts is the first state to ► t SPORT Report USA Rugby USA Rugby is integrating into YMCA's, Community Park Programs & Leagues. "In rugby, you won't be picked on a team and then stuck just standing around waiting to participate. You will be involved in the action." '' Kurt Weaver, USA Rugby Youth and High School Director

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