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USAR Rules Not Strong Enough

Tuesday May 5, 2009 in Columns Attack-CounterAttack

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(Single school all the way. Penn HS at last year's championships. Ed Hagerty photo.)

May 5, 2009 - In February of this year, changes were made to eligibility requirements for the 2009 National HS Championship, changes that many consider detrimental to the growth of high school rugby as a mainstream interscholastic sport in the US.

Among these changes are that single-school teams may use players from outside their school, and that they may use players who have graduated from that school.

We ask the eight teams that qualify for this year’s single-school National HS Championship in Pittsburgh to voluntarily abide by the 2008 eligibility regulations that limit competing players to valid undergraduate students of the one school under whose name they compete. Even if USA Rugby’s rules are less-strict, it is best for the sport if we follow a tighter set of rules.

800+ HS / U-19 Rugby Clubs

According to recently compiled data, high school rugby, with more than 800 male and female clubs, has shown remarkable growth and is now the largest single category of rugby clubs in the United States. Aiding and abetting this growth has been the recognition among high school administrators of rugby’s merits and the rise in the number and size of institutionally supported, single-school HS teams.

We ask the eight teams that qualify for this year’s single-school National HS Championship in Pittsburgh to voluntarily abide by the 2008 eligibility regulations that limit competing players to valid undergraduate students of the one school under whose name they compete.

The high school game has always been considered key to US rugby’s future and a National Championship for HS/U-19 Clubs has been staged for the past 28 years, starting in 1981. And after years of hard work, rugby is attracting the attention of those in the high school academic community.

Two Championships
In recognition of the HS game’s growth, and its desire to be recognized as a mainstream sport by US high school administrators, the 2008 National HS/U-19 Championship was divided into two separate categories:

1) A National HS Championship for teams whose players are all undergraduates at the same HS, and

2) A National U-19 Championship for teams comprised of high school students from multiple schools.

This two-championship innovation provides opportunities for all players and schools flocking to the high school game.

The National U-19 Championship serves athletes whose schools do not support a rugby program, while the National HS Championship provides a level playing field for teams restricted to undergraduates of a single school.

The newly created 2008 National Championships were a great success with Jesuit (Sacramento, Calif.) winning the single-school HS Championship and Highland (Salt Lake City, Utah) taking the U-19 crown.

Eligibility Changes For 2009
Then out of the blue on February 14, 2009, USA Rugby’s new Board of Directors approved radical eligibility changes recommended by its Youth and High School Committee.

For the 2009 National Single-School HS Championship, these regulations stated that clubs must be represented by a roster that is limited to:

a) Players that are registered students at the High School upon which the club is based,
b) Plus players that have graduated from that High School,

c) Plus up to a maximum of five (5) special exemption players from other schools

In so doing, this seldom-heard-from Youth and High School Committee introduced changes that run counter to the efforts of those seeking to transform rugby into a mainstream US high school sport. High school sports such as football, baseball and basketball would never permit importing players from other schools or allowing athletes who had graduated to play in league competitions.

Limiting players on rugby teams seeking single-school High School Championships to undergraduates of that school is key to gaining institutional school support in terms of funding, coaching and use of school facilities. Because of league rules, insurance issues, etc, we cannot imagine US high schools allowing the importation of outside students or graduates to strengthen school supported rugby teams.

At least two factors influenced changing the eligibility rules for the single-school National HS Championship.

One has been the dominance of Highland, which has won 18 National HS/U-19 Championships over the past 28 years. Other multi-school teams fear playing all-conquering Highland, but by mongrelizing the single school eligibility requirements, multi-school teams can now qualify to pursue the Single School National HS Championship.

Youth and High School Committee
In trying to determine what prompted the Youth and High School Committee (Y&HSC) to introduce changes that are so alien to interscholastic US sport, it’s instructive that the Y&HSC does not contain a representative of a legitimate single school HS team.

USA Rugby’s website currently lists seven members, but one (Mark Williams) resigned some time ago. Of the remaining six, four (Bill Middleton-NZ, Bruno Artero-France, Mark Griffin-UK and Dick Podmore-UK) are ex-pats who grew up outside the US and outside the US sporting culture. The two remaining members are Americans: Tracey Davies and Chris Kaufman.

Cathedral HS
Chris Kaufman came to our attention when his Cathedral (Ind.) HS team was declared ineligible for the 2008 Single School National HS Championship because Cathedral’s roster included players from Bishop Chatard HS. Cathedral also missed representing the Midwest RFU in the 2008 U-19 National Championship when they were defeated by Westerville.

In the aftermath of such a situation, a team such as Cathedral had the options to:
1) Limit itself to Cathedral undergrads and pursue single-school HS championships.
2) Continue fielding a combined Cathedral / Chatard team and pursue multi-school U-19 championships.
3) Join USA Rugby’s Y&HSC and lobby to get the eligibility rules changed.

Cathedral’s Kaufman chose option three and was a member of the Y&HSC that changed the single school eligibility rules.

With a 54-man team roster, consisting of 36 Cathedral and 18 Chatard players, Cathedral somehow qualified under the new rules as a single school team and competed on May 2-3 in the Midwest RFU’s Single School HS Championship. Cathedral defeated Brother Rice 34-12 in its quarterfinal match but fell to Brownsburg 22-15 in the semifinal.

Join the Youth and High School Committee
Hopefully this year’s eligibility misadventure will  be corrected by people interested in the future of high school rugby joining the Y&HSC and ensuring that such short sighted eligibility changes are not permitted to reoccur.

- Ed Hagerty © www.erurgbynews.com

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