Giving rugby a try in Howard


Ellicott City Express fields age-group teams in `touch' version of sport


The fields at Meadowood Regional Park in the Lutherville section of Baltimore County were busy. It seemed like a typical sports day, with children in uniforms running around, coaches working to teach the game -- and everyone hoping to win.

From Howard County, the Ellicott City Express would field three age groups against teams from the Lutherville-Timonium Vipers.

The biggest difference on this particular Saturday morning was the sport: rugby, an activity not yet as popular in this country as in others.

"It's growing now," said Will Brewington, who started the Ellicott City Express, played rugby at several levels and is a commissioner in the Potomac Rugby Union Youth division. "I like getting out there on the field."

Brewington is optimistic about the sport in Howard County. The Express is in its seventh season, and Saturday its players seemed to show a better understanding for the intricacies of the game than did the Lutherville-Timonium players.

The Express certainly had more speed, as its players made plays that look like sweeps or end runs in football, and the Vipers couldn't stop them. The black-clad Express controlled the game in which the older kids played.

Otherwise, things looked much like soccer or football. Parents were sitting on the sidelines in chairs, talking and cheering on their children's teams. Just as in other sports, fathers sneaked up to their children -- especially the younger kids -- to offer a quick word of encouragement.

Brewington emphasizes three goals: have fun, teach the game of rugby and be competitive. The club has children in several age groups, from ages 6 to 14, as does the Howard County Hurricanes, another local team. These kids play touch, as in touch football, but the two clubs are combining for a 15-16 tackle program named the Hurricane Express.

Brewington added that the teams needed to begin offering tackle because most other programs in the Potomac Rugby Union with players of similar age were doing the same thing. Not teaching them to play tackle could have caused a problem.

Children often play the sport as a bridge to something else, but many seem to like rugby.

"You run all day long, and it's something to do [over the summer]," said Zach Nalepa, 14, of Ellicott City. "It just takes practice, and I like scoring."

Zach has been playing rugby for five years; he also enjoys playing basketball. All the running in rugby helps him stay in shape for the basketball season.

Jack Western, a 14-year-old who attends Centennial High, says rugby helps him stay sharp for the winter and wrestling.

"It's competitive, but everyone is having fun," Jack said. "It's a lot more laid-back, and it keeps me in shape."

Jason Enwright's two boys are learning the sport. Kyle, 13, and Tyler, 10, play for the Columbia Ravens football team, but they are trying rugby for the first time. Their father believes it is a good way to keep the boys ready for football season.

"I think it's great because it exposes them to a different sport," Enwright said. "It's a lot of running, so it keeps you active ... and all the experiences are good."

Women's soccer camp

Janell Coffman runs many programs for the county Department of Recreation and Parks, but she loves soccer. She plays the game and is an assistant coach for the Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville women's team.

Coffman brought more soccer to Howard County this summer when she helped to start a soccer camp for women. The camp is run through the Washington Freedom team.

Assistant coach Clyde Watson and other coaches and players direct the new camp.

Coffman said 21 women registered for the camp, which just started. Sessions are held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays for five weeks at Cedar Lane Park East.

"I play on a women's team ... and it seemed like something that would be fun, not only social but for skill development," Coffman said. "It's an opportunity for adults to act like children."

Coffman is pleased that 21 women joined for the first year. She said the emphasis will be on skills, play and progression. Coffman is hoping to see the program continue to grow and was pleased to have the Freedom coaches involved.

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