Kicking a soccer ball, dunking a basketball, hitting a baseball out into right field, scoring a touchdown, these are all sports kids can join outside of school, but there is a newcomer to the field of youth sports, rugby.
Most Americans only hear second-hand about rugby, and that has led to an unfounded belief that the sport can only be brutal and harsh. Paul Lynch of the American Youth Rugby Union, Silicon Valley’s youth rugby league, disagrees, “Most people when they’re introduced to rugby are introduced to contact rugby.”
Lynch has spent the last four years building a youth league akin to Pop Warner Football, Little League Baseball or, his favorite, AYSO Soccer.
“What we’ve been trying to achieve is to give kids a love, a passion, for a new sport,” Lynch said, “if that’s all that’s been done my job will be finished.”
The league’s had two challenges, first is this misconception of rugby.
“It’s not a blood sport,” Lynch said, “It explains why America isn’t high on the list of rugby nations because we don’t introduce kids to it until they are in high school or college.”
This has led Lynch to try alternate methods to teaching.
“What we don’t want to do is introduce a new sport too quickly and too soon, putting parents off the sport forever,” Lynch said, “Some of the techniques of tackling haven’t been superb and that puts kids off the sport, which leads us to touch rugby.”
Touch rugby is akin to flag football and allows kids of all ages and gender to play without the fear of injury.
“Even at 18 we’re still growing, we’re still putting muscle on, and we don’t want to hurt the development of that,” Lynch said, “You can get kids to play adult rugby or else you can try touch rugby.”
The second issue is Lynch’s desire to make rugby available to all, even if they can’t afford it.
“On average it costs $80 to play rugby and that goes to field dues, licenses, uniforms, promotional material and so forth. But even $80 is hard to find for some families. We don’t want to exclude them from experiencing rugby,” Lynch said.
To provide the funds, AYRU has turned to fundraising to sponsor the kids.
“One of five is a scholarship and it’s up to us to find the money to cover it,” Lynch said, “We’ll often get grants from Kiwanis or other businesses.”
A recent grant from the Kiwanis of $1000 will help provide for even more. Lynch’s background as a blue-collar youth growing up in Ireland kept him away from the sport until he became older and it was that revelation about rugby that has made him keep it all-inclusive.
“We want to form an organization that whether you’re big or small, rich or poor, you can experience rugby which I think is the ultimate sport,” Lynch said, “It just means that some kid that wouldn’t have would have a chance to experience it.”
The funds would cover even after they go through their first year, but the kids aren’t required to commit for the sponsorship, “Even if they don’t keep it up they’ve had a taste of a new sport,” Lynch said.
For parents, the constant movement and lack of breaks in play inherent in baseball or football have a desired effect, “The parents love us. After practice their kids are put in the shower, fed and they’re out,” Lynch said.
For Lynch, rugby provides an outlet for kids to enjoy a new sport that brings with it a long history and a passion for teamwork.
“After the game, unlike other sports, we get together with the other team and eat hot dogs and drink soft drinks together,” Lynch said, “Even if you have some disagreements during the game, which you will because you care about the game, we get together and hang out and talk it out.”
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