‘Building a culture’

March 2, 2012

By Christina Lords

Liberty Rugby offers camaraderie, international competition opportunities

By Greg Farrar Jason Piutau, a Liberty High School junior, receives a pass during a practice drill with the Liberty Rugby Football Club, one of six Division 1 programs in the state.

As one of only 16 high school rugby clubs in the state, the Liberty Rugby Football Club has grown accustomed to traveling long distances to find adequate competition.

In fact, the team welcomes it.

“We pride ourselves on being nationally recognized, nationally ranked,” coach Jeff Candler said. “The big reason we are is the traveling we do helps us prove ourselves.”

Regular season play starts up in March for the team, which was originally established by Mark Bullock in 1986.

Since then, competing nationally and internationally has become a staple of the club. About 60-80 players are in the program, with an additional 15 children in the club’s mini program geared to 9- to 11-year-olds.

The Liberty team, which is not associated with any one public school in the area, is one of six Division 1 programs in the state.

“It seems like the winning takes care of itself,” Candler said. “We don’t need to set that as a goal, because what we’re doing creates enthusiasm and the winning just kind of happens.”

Beginning April 5, the team will travel for 12 days to New Zealand to take on international competition — a major goal for the team this year.

The tough travel season, which often takes the teams to tournaments in other states and sometimes internationally, runs through May.

“The camaraderie is second to none,” Candler said. “I’ve traveled the world because of this game, and I have lifelong friendships because of this game. I like to tell the kids that you can be dropped out of a helicopter anywhere in the world and you can land, you can look for the nearest rugby club and you instantly have 40 new friends.”

Many team members have experience playing football, soccer or wrestling, but students outside of those activities can often find success with the club, he said.

“A lot of kids who otherwise wouldn’t participate in mainstream sports find their niche in rugby,” he said.

Because the club offers spots for three different age groups, there are opportunities for younger players to learn from older teammates, he said.

Coaches for the program have developed a vested interest in the players on and off the field, and maintaining good grades and seeking out collegiate team opportunities remain motivating factors for students, Candler said.

“It’s really growing,” he said. “The number of players playing rugby right now is similar to lacrosse in growth. These alternative sports are grabbing people’s attention.”

Candler said the more coaches focus on personal growth for individuals and for the team, the more success they see on the field.

“We have this tradition here, and winning and attracting kids who might not have any other opportunity to play rugby and building success on and off the field,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest things we do: build character off the field. That’s huge to me.

“A lot of people hear about rugby and think these kids are rough and gruff, but we’re trying to change the image by building the culture.”

On the Web:

Learn more about the Liberty Rugby Football Club at its website at http://libertyrugby.org or email libertyrugby@gmail.com.

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