Trying to fill rugby void for high school players

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

February 22, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

BELIEVE IT or not, there's a hole in all the team sports that you can find in Howard County, and Jim Hulbert wants to fill it. Starting now.

That's rugby for high-school-age players, mainly boys.

You can play rugby if you're in elementary school or middle school. And you can play relatively locally on a men's club for players ages 20 to 35, and 36 and older.

But, says Hulbert, an environmental engineer by trade and official with the Rocky Gorge Rugby Football Club of Laurel: "We're missing a piece of the puzzle. We want people to be able to play from 6 to 60. So we want to form at least one team for high school players."

Understand that Hulbert, a native of the York, Pa., area, is one passionate fellow about the sport born in England, spread throughout the old Commonwealth and that in this country, anyway, has fostered backers who a few years ago stuck stickers reading, "Rugby players eat their dead" on bumpers.

You know, if you watch late-night cable TV, that rugby's that rough-and-tumble game recently played for a world championship by brawny, athletic guys from Australia, New Zealand, England, and, in the early rounds, the United States.

Well, to reach that level, you've got to start young.

The Rocky Gorge club, which absorbed the Columbia Rugby Club in 1992, has sponsored two youth age-group teams in Howard County, the Hurricanes, for the past five or so years. They've been playing on the fields behind the east Columbia library.

Another two youth teams, called the Express, work out of Ellicott City.

And Hulbert wants to form at least one, maybe two, teams that will compete this spring at the high school level in a league of about 20 teams from the greater Washington area. He figures that about 15 players have signed up, but more are needed.

This is club-level sport, not competition sanctioned and underwritten by any of the Maryland public school systems. And unlike the game played by those four county youth teams - which is flag rugby, meaning no tackling - the high school game will be full contact.

The "union style" of competition, meaning fluid play like that at those world championships, is done with two 15-member teams that, because of the speed and contact, require many substitutes.

Anyone from 14 to 19 can try out, Hulbert said, and no experience is needed. Just bring cleats and a mouthpiece. Practices began Wednesday and will be conducted, weather permitting, Mondays and Wednesdays into mid-May at Harper's Choice Middle School in Columbia. Games will be scheduled Fridays and Saturdays from sometime next month through May.

If you want more info, try the Rocky Gorge hot line at 410-234-9713 or call Hulbert, 410-313-8054.

Along the sidelines

SOCCER: The Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County's third Icebreaker Coaching Clinic will be conducted March 6 at Howard Community College's gymnasium. More than 100 coaches attended last year.

In addition to classes organized by SAC/HC coaching director Bill Stara and led by some prominent coaches with county and national credentials, there'll be a 4 vs. 4 tournament.

Clinicians include Rob Ryerson - coach of the men's team at Mount St. Mary's College and a Columbia resident who played for the Blast, among other indoor teams; Mike Curry, former SAC/HC coach who directs the Goalkeeping Academy; Sasho Cirovski, coach of the University of Maryland's men's team and a Columbia resident; and Mike Barr and Carlos Menjivar, from the U.S. Soccer Federation's national staff.

Registration is required, and the cost before Feb. 28 is $30 for the all-day clinic. Information: 410-772-9373, option 0; or check the club's Web site, www.sac-hc.org.

MORE SOCCER: SAC/HC slipped a temporarily sad note onto that Web site last week. It won't be formally opening its new fields at Covenant Park and Howard Community College until the fall season. (Although, we hear it is possible that some soccer will be played at Covenant later in the spring.)

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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