Kids discovering rugby

Area youth are being introduced to a sport that is gaining popularity in this country in high schools and colleges.

SUMMER In Carroll County

July 17, 2005|By Jill Stone | Jill Stone,SUN STAFF

Drew Voyt, 10, suits up in his white T-shirt with an eagle and the Freedom Fighters team logo splashed across the front to play a game full of conversion kicks, drop goals and scrumdowns.

The terms are new to Voyt, who is learning to play rugby for the first time. He's also learning about teamwork, because the game is all about working together. Finding time between participating in karate, basketball, soccer and lacrosse, Drew, of Eldersburg, said that "after a few practices" he began to understand the game.

"The kids don't have to be highly skilled before they play," said his father, Bill Voyt, whose daughter Abbey, 8, also plays in the rugby league. "The team atmosphere is fun for the kids, to just be part of a team."

The Potomac Rugby Union Youth League is made up of 20 teams from Howard, Baltimore, Frederick and Harford counties, as well as from Washington and Northern Virginia. The teams include boys and girls, but are separated into teams with players younger than 11 and players younger than 15.

Chris Carroll, 39, rugby director at the Freedom Area Recreation Council in Eldersburg, is excited about the additional 30 boys and girls playing in the league this year. Last year, there were about 40 participants who signed up to play in the league's first year.

"It's a very exciting, fast-paced sport," Carroll said. He hopes this sport will help teach kids the importance of cooperation and working together as a team.

"It's a very team-oriented sport. ... If you don't pass, you don't win," he said. "There's no hero in rugby."

Chris Holmes, whose son Kyle, 10, is playing rugby for the first time this year, said, "The focus is to learn how to play the game and to enjoy it. ... It's a well-rounded program because it's more educational than competitive, which is what they need."

Holmes discovered the program through Carroll, and has complimented the values that Carroll has instilled in his players. "It boosts my confidence," Kyle said about rugby. "I am one of the older kids on the under-11 team and it definitely helps me to think that I'm much better."

Kyle has been trying to get his 7-year-old sister, Katie, to play, but he said "she's not really into the team sports." Instead, she is content to stand on the sidelines and cheer for her brother.

The players are all "brand new to the game," said Carroll, who added that the sport is easy to learn. "You can learn the game in 20 minutes, but you can get good at it after many years."

The coaches are also former players, including Carroll, who said that "these are the guys that really love rugby" and hope that they can pass that love of the game on to kids.

Eileen Voyt said she met Carroll when he coached her son on a baseball team. She said she is impressed with his constructive coaching styles.

"It's amazing how one person, no matter what sport they teach, can be so positive to the children," said Voyt, who added that Carroll always gives the children encouraging feedback.

Carroll believes that rugby is going to be "one of the fastest-growing sports around." To recruit team members, Carroll visited Linton Springs Elementary during the school year to teach rugby to students, while asking players from other sports teams whether they were interested in rugby.

In order to assure a location for weekly practices and games, Carroll requested help from the Freedom Area Rec Council, which also schedules basketball, volleyball, soccer and several other recreational programs. Sporting events and practices are scheduled at Hodges Park and Freedom Park in Eldersburg.

Carroll said that players learn that there are two positions, forwards and backs, and the numbers on the jerseys signify the individual positions on the field. There is no stop in play unless a minute is called for an injury, or the ball is thrown out of bounds.

In this rugby league, tackles are not an efficient way to gain possession of the ball. Only a two-hand tag is allowed.

"That means all the kids can play," said Voyt, who believes that the two-hand tag is beneficial, especially for younger players. Although many of the players do join for the competition, Carroll said he and the coaches "try to keep it real low-key" and do not record statistics of the games during the season.

"When the game's over, we don't just shake hands," Carroll said. The hometown team traditionally provides hot dogs and chips to the visiting team at the playing field.

From this program, Carroll hopes he will be able to introduce the sport into various high schools.

"High school rugby has really exploded," Carroll said, referring to high schools such as Loyola Blakefield in Towson and Calvert Hall College High School in Towson, which have declared rugby a varsity sport. They belong to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association.

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