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Rugby: How kids can get involved in the newest Olympic sport

When the 2016 Summer Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro, the games will feature a sport that hasn’t been included since 1924 — rugby.

Rugby sevens, a form of rugby with seven players and shorter halves consisting of only 7 minutes each, will make its debut Aug. 6.

Ellicott City Express Richard Popper wAs the second-most popular sport in the world, rugby has been played in Europe, Africa and Asia for almost 200 years, but it’s only in recent years that the sport has become more common in the U.S.

“Rugby is the fastest growing sport in the United States,” says Nick Sero, manager of communications and digital media for USA Rugby, the national governing body for the sport. “There is a tremendous increase at the youth level and our men’s and women’s Olympic teams are genuine contenders.”

According to USA Rugby, the sport has seen a more than 15 percent increase in participation this past year, and youth leagues are exploding across all regions of the U.S.

In Maryland there are many local clubs and rec leagues for kids who want to try the game. Anne Arundel Rugby offers programs for elementary to high school ages through five different regional teams. Ellicott City Express is a youth rugby club offered through the Howard County Parks and Recreation Department for kids ages 6 and older.

Richard Popper, a coach with Ellicott City Express, has seen firsthand the surge in popularity of the sport. “Our enrollment is up 20 percent this year alone and we have players of all skill levels and ages,” he says.

Coach Mike “Moose” Anderson oversees the program at Anne Arundel Rugby and says players can start at any age and many go on to play through college and as adults.

“We’ve had several players recruited by some top college programs,” he says.

Watch the video to learn more about rugby from Anne Arundel Rugby coach Mike Anderson and players:

 

The perception that rugby is physically rough is also fading as the sport gains awareness.

“Many people have this idea that rugby is a rough male sport with heavy contact, but it’s actually a game with a lot of finesse,” Popper says. “There is no tackling in rugby sevens and even a rough tag is considered a penalty.”

Rugby is accessible for both boys and girls, and many leagues remain co-ed until age 15. While both clubs do have tackle rugby for the older players, it is mostly a tag version of the game for the younger age groups. It’s also one of the cheapest sports out there for kids, since players only need a ball and a pair of cleats.

But it’s rugby’s fast pace and inclusive nature that hooks kids from the start.

“Rugby is an exciting sport. Scoring happens fast and, like basketball, everyone has an opportunity to touch the ball,” Popper says. “There’s a camaraderie in rugby that is unique from other sports.”

Story by Katie Riley
Video by Kathlyn Carney
Photo by Richard Popper

Click Next below for a list of Maryland rugby leagues and resources.

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