CEDAR RAPIDS — Finishing as the state runner-up after only one year in existence sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie.
But it happened for the Cedar Rapids Washington rugby team.
Despite this accomplishment in its inaugural season, not many students know about this team or its success.
Rugby is a classic sport that is popular around the world. It is a physical sport similar to football and soccer, but players wear little to no pads.
“It’s like if you’re a tough football player and you like smacking people ... go play rugby (because) they are damn near the same thing and that’s like really attractive to the wrestlers and football players typically,” senior Chris Karamitros said.
Although most rugby played around the world is 15s (15-on-15) Washington plays rugby 7s. This means there are fewer people playing at a time and the halves are shorter. Washington rugby games take about 15 minutes, with two seven minute halves and a two minute halftime.
Rugby is a great option for athletes in the spring. It’s a more physical alternative to soccer or track.
“It’s all fast-paced (and) the ball rarely stops, you’re going hard for seven minutes,” Karamitros said. “... I think they find that attractive and I think that it’s just so unfamiliar to them that when they hear that, they’re like, ‘rugby you’re tackling without pads it’s scary,’ but then they do it and they’re like, ‘well this is fun.’”
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Rugby has been growing rapidly in the United States, and in Iowa. There are more students joining teams and there are more teams joining the Iowa Youth Rugby Association (IAYRA) every year. There are currently three teams (Jefferson, Washington and Linn-Mar) in the Metro and IAYRA director and state representative Dennis Oliver projects there to be even more in 2019.
“I would say that it’s attributed to the passionate coaches and fans that we have,” he said. “They are able to convey their passion for the game to their players and allow them to fall in love with the game.
“We emphasize camaraderie, sportsmanship and that it’s a game played by all creeds, genders and races across the world. I also think it is because we play the Olympic version of the game, 7s, which is fast-paced and high scoring.”
Although rugby is growing on the high school level and is new to a few schools, the sport has a long history in the state. The Cedar Rapids Headhunters is a rugby team that has been competing since the 1960s. Rugby also exists at the collegiate level and, to some athletes, can provide a way for them to help pay for their next level of education.
“One other thing I think that gets missed is the opportunity for financial assistance for college,” Warriors Coach Patrick Lausen said. “To be blunt, some kids that would not earn a football scholarship, could potentially still find money for college through playing rugby. Iowa Central Community College, for instance, has a varsity program that is currently ranked number one in the nation in the small school division (and) offers scholarships to their varsity athletes.”
The Warrior are hosting a tournament April 6 at Kingston Stadium, a first for the football/track facility.
“We are hosting 11 teams, we are going to be playing two games that night and the other teams are going to play each other,” Karamitros said. “We’re going to make a tournament out of it. Man, it’s going to be crazy. First time at Kingston a rugby match has ever been held its going to be awesome. We got to publicize it I’m super excited.”
This tournament is going to be especially important because rugby is not a sanctioned sport. That means the team cannot receive any funding from the school. Profits from the tournament will fund the team for the year.
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“... obviously the school supports us, like, ‘go you guys,’ Karamitros said. “... but no one really knew we had a team, but Mr. (Grant) Schultz has been awesome. He’s actually going to let us paint the field out here this year, so you’re going to see some rugby lines out there and it’s going to be awesome.
“If we could get sanctioned, that’d be great because if we get sanctioned then we could get buses and they could buy us our kits. Right now were doing that all ourselves, but this game at Kingston is going to be huge because all that money is going to go into our own system so if (you) come out and pay, the more people that come out the more money we get, the more we will be able to pay for ourselves and we are going to be rolling from there.”
Last year’s Warrior team, consisting of just 11 members, made it to the state championship match (while only having nine players due to injuries) before falling to Iowa rugby powerhouse Southeast Polk in a close match. This season, the team has almost doubled in size and team captain Karamitros is looking forward to a good season.
“I was out obviously, and Connor Malcolm, who was our starting fly half, which is a position, was out as well,” Karamitros said. “... we are going for that title baby. It’s going to be crazy.”
Lausen also has high hopes with a few goals. He wants to win the conference, earn a substate bye and, of course, win state. He also wants to start a girls’ program to compete in the fall. If they accomplish all of these, it would not only mark an incredible season for the team, it would mark the first high school girls rugby team in the area.
“Rugby is more than just a game that is played inside the white lines of the pitch,” Lausen said. “The rugby community is what drives people to be so involved after their playing days are over. This game is still small enough that the community feels more like a family.
“Beyond the emotional response, rugby is an incredible companion sport to football. We focus daily on proper tackling techniques and fitness. You will go to football in the fall as an improved athlete ready to produce on the football field. Additionally, we find that wrestlers seem to convert to rugby like ducks to water.”