Rugby for high school students in CoMo


Photo by Zain Ibdah

Isaac Parrish

[dropcap style=”flat” size=”4″]I[/dropcap]n Branson, senior Ben Aumiller spent a lot of his time running with a group of close friends as a part of his school’s track and cross country teams. Suddenly, he had to move to Columbia just before his last year of high school and leave them behind.
At RBHS, Aumiller got word about a rugby team in town looking for new players.
He remembered hearing people talk about rugby back home and how it was one of the toughest things a guy could do, and since he wasn’t running with his old friends anymore anyway, he figured he’d give it a shot.
“I’ve found some camaraderie in the team that I’ve seldom got to experience,” Aumiller said. “[In rugby,] we only see each other about three times a week and come from different schools, but the physical and intense nature of the sport kinda pulls the team together without anyone trying. It’s something else.”
The Bandits, a rugby team for high school students in Columbia, made its debut in the spring of 2017. For assistant coach Drew Morrow, rugby was a gift bestowed upon him, and the best thing anyone can do is pass on a gift.
Morrow, alongside the Outlaws, the decades-old team for adults, created the Bandits simply so that they could help spread the sport they love to a younger generation.
“As an older player, I love the game but can’t play as much, but still want to be in the rugby family,” Morrow said. “[Coaching] is a great way to pass on my knowledge and keep in the rugby game. This season is great seeing all the new faces and the returning players. Watching guys catch the fire for the sport like I did so many years ago is awesome and lets me know I’m passing on a good thing.”
For most players, the team serves as their introduction to the game. That’s understandable, as there are many more participants for American football than there are for rugby in the states (5.48 million vs. 1.55 million in 2016, according to Statista). Rugby is an activity that junior Malik Ibdah believes would be appropriate and enjoyable for just about anyone who wanted to give it a try, as he wouldn’t even be far off from the skill level of the rest of the team.
“I had absolutely no clue about rugby when I first started,” Ibdah said. “Despite it being a rough sport, it’s ironically a lot more chill than I expected. It’s still a serious game, but there aren’t huge crowds or an enormous pressure on you to win. It’s just people having fun, and that’s the best part. Rugby is, honestly, one of the best experiences in my life, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone, regardless of athletic ability or anything. Rugby is for everybody.”
Although the game is entertaining for many to play and watch, it can be dangerous.
The Bandits suffered many injuries last season, including two concussions from the same player and a sprained ankle, knee injury and minor neck injuries for others, said head coach Don Baker. So far this year, there has been another sprained ankle and a broken leg.
“All rugby coaches try to teach safety first,” Baker said. “Tackling is a good example; we talk about the importance of placing your head behind the ball carrier, then making contact with your shoulder on or below his hip, wrapping up and finally finishing the tackle by taking him to the ground.”
Rugby is a contact sport and can be played hard and aggressive, but with safety in mind.
In addition, Baker said that USA Rugby, the national governing body for the sport, requires that in every game there must be a referee who has been instructed that any high tackles can result in red or yellow cards, like in soccer. There is also a mandatory and certified athletic trainer at all games in case of accidents.
“People only think it’s a crazy, brutal game, but it’s not that,” Morrow said. “It’s about family. No matter where you go in this world, you can find a rugby player or team, and they will take you in and support you like you’re one of their own. We play for each other, and we support each other, on and most importantly, off the field.”