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Cal Rugby Camp Concludes

Monday Jul 21, 2008 in Grassroots Rugby Youth

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Photo Anton Malko, Cal media Relations.

July 21, 2008, Berkeley, Calif. - Young rugby players from seven foreign countries, 18 states and the nation's capitol have wrapped up two weeks of rapid improvement at the Cal Rugby Summer Camp on the University of California campus.

Campers, coaches and parents from all over the U.S. and abroad raised their rugby IQs under the instruction of head coach Jack Clark, fellow former National Team coach Tom Billups, current members of the national championship Golden Bears and special presenters spanning topics from academics and health to advanced techniques and the changing laws of the game.

Divided into two weeklong sessions for 11?-14 and 15-19-year-old boys, the older campers culminated their experience last Friday with the Grand Final Tournament in front of a large gathering of parents and friends.

"They love the group, they love the kids and the coaching is great," said parent Kim Frisinger, a coach with the Hong Kong Football Club, of his son, Hunter, who traveled from Asia with a teammate to attend camp. "The rugby fraternity is no different anywhere in the world."

Zahid Jethani, who arrived for his session from Vancouver, BC, where he plays for Canada's U17 National Team, said, "Everything is right on point and really organized, and there's still room to have fun with all these good guys. The coaches and players have been really helpful - you can talk to them and see what life is like here."

Americans from coast to coast capitalized on the countless chances to improve their games at this summer's camp, too.

Hunter Simmons, a Division I football prospect entering his senior year at Loyola High School, where he plays defensive end and fullback, may find that choosing his future path between gridiron and rugby has become a more difficult decision now.

"This has been a great camp and I've learned a lot," said Simmons, who entered camp with two seasons of rugby experience with the L.A. Cougars under coach Chip Howard. "The coaches have so much information and knowledge, I know I can become ten times a better player with what they can teach me."

In addition to teaching technique, the camp offers a window onto future opportunities that rugby can offer aspiring athletes at home and overseas.

Kester Wise, a former varsity team captain who played for the Bears from 1991-95, teamed up with fellow Cal rugby alumnus Dr. Ian Tong and Chico State alumnus Jon Payne to secure funding for the trip of two promising players from the Hyde Leadership Charter School in Washington, D.C. Both campers, Antoine Johnson and Salim Lancaster, seized the day in their farthest trip from home to date. Donations came in from all over.

Johnson was a determined competitor despite his slight frame, establishing himself among the best forwards as a 15-year-old flanker.

"I'm excited for next season. I've got a lot of new skills to take back home," he said.

Teammate Lancaster, a scrumhalf who also entered camp with one year of rugby under his belt with Hyde Rugby, said, "The biggest things were the hard work and giving it all you've got. It feels good to get away from home, to come here and have a great experience in this sport that I love now."

"We hoped they'd see the vast opportunities there are through rugby," said Wise, a local attorney. "If you get good grades and you work hard, it's possible to be admitted to a great institution like Cal or other colleges."

Tal Bayer, director of rugby at the Hyde School and Kester's former teammate on the Washington RFC, is excited to see the skills and attitudes his players bring back from camp. "I want to hear the stories," Bayer said. "It's opened up their eyes to so many things and it helps me as a coach, too. What could be better than to go to the top college program in the country to help them elevate their game?"

Rob Salabar, who played for the Bears from 1983-87, enjoyed seeing his sons play.

"It's great when you can have that kind of experience, and the fact that I can give it to my kids makes me really happy," Salabar said.

A coach at UC Davis for 10 years, where he bought the Aggies to the Big Four National Championships before starting the Dixon Youth Rugby Club in 2006, Salabar sent his younger son, flyhalf Anthony, to the first session, and older son, back-rower Nicholas, to the second.

"A lot of my philosophy is similar to Jack's," said Rob. "It's all about discipline, hard work and commitment, so it's perfect for my sons because they get to hear it from someone else who's obviously been very successful. It's an opportunity to learn that it's not just about rugby - it's about character."

Another coach on hand was California Maritime Academy's Edward Roberts, who called it "very gracious for Jack to open his doors for me to observe. I was grateful for the opportunity."

In addition to taking away numerous "tips and tricks I wouldn't have gotten had I not been there," coach Edwards was pleasantly surprised by the camp's robust attendance. "The numbers of young men interested in our sport was very pleasing. In that atmosphere, they were obviously enjoying themselves," he said.

Instructors throughout both sessions included Derek Van Rheenen Ph.D., Director of the Athletic Study Center at the University; Dr. Phil Wagner, director of SPARTA Performance Science; and Pete Smith, a member of the Northern California Referee Society who returned from his duties refereeing at the North American 4 tournament to give a presentation on the Emerging Law Variations (ELVs), set to take effect Aug. 1.

Clinics and seminars covered a wide range of on- and off-field topics, and evening video analysis allowed players to follow their progress. Campers were divided into squads led by current varsity players representing a variety of positions. Cal Athletics' training staff was on hand throughout the camp to assist with campers' needs.

Cal Rugby Summer Camp once again received support from founding sponsor Gatorade, which supplied hydration stations to support the athletes as they enjoy the challenge of camp under mid-summer conditions. Kooga supplied jerseys for each camper which became their keepsakes at camp's end.

This summer's attendees all received a Certificate of Achievement in Rugby Skills, Strategy and Tactics on the final day.

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