High school state championships gain rugby exposure

Every high school athlete dreams of competing for a state title. Across the country, state championships are the most exciting and entertaining events for high school athletes. These matches represent the culmination of hard work and dedication for student-athletes in their respective sports. For rugby, these events are as much about a title as they are about gaining attention for the sport.

State rugby organizations (SROs) are turning championships into exciting events to gain exposure for stronger growth. The 2013 season has been extremely successful for rugby, increasing the number of participating athletes which in turn leads to more state championships. Nearly 40 states are currently developing their individual high school championships, and SROs are doing a tremendous job of growing the sport from the ground up. Not only do they mark growth for the sport, but these higher profile matches have shown distinct improvement in the level of competition at the state level. Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Illinois are, in their respective ways, providing a model for rugby.

Minnesota State Championships

Date: June 8-9, The Metrodome/Mall of America Field

Minnesota is creating a large-scale event at which players and fans alike want to be. On Sunday, June 9, the five boys and girls divisions of high school rugby will compete for the championship at the Metrodome in the Twin Cities.

Katie Sjeklocha, Director of High School & Youth Rugby in Minnesota, said she thought it was a big opportunity for the sport.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to have our state championships and tournament played in a venue with this type of visibility and scale,” she said. “We hope with the visibility and growth of our state tournament, it will increase popularity and attention around high school rugby.”

Sjeklocha mentioned they hope to draw over 8,000 people to the title matches.

Ohio State Championships

Date: June 1, Westerville North High School

The 2012 championships in Ohio featured over 1,500 spectators who came to watch two varsity high schools with rugby teams compete. In 2012, Ohio had only a boy’s division competing. For 2013, however, Ohio has expanded to include girls and is hoping to increase to 2,500 fans in attendance. Matt DeBarr, marketing director for Rugby Ohio, said this year’s championships are being broadcast on Time Warner Cable.

“It’s exciting to work with a TV production company, having commercials, and getting the kids on TV is a huge plus,” said DeBarr. “Utilizing the media is a tremendous way for individual states to provide exposure to high school rugby.”

Oregon State Championships

Date: May 18, Canby High School

Oregon is using professionally-filmed tactics to help expose their championships. On May 18, Oregon Rugby utilized equipment from a local TV station to film the final matches. Over the weekend, between 8,000 and 10,000 people came out to support the local rugby teams. The five various divisional finals were held at a local high school, where Jenn Heinrich, executive director of Rugby Oregon, said she felt it gave an intimate atmosphere.

“We had a great turnout and it was supported locally as well,” said Heinrich.

Oregon used a sponsorship from Gatorade to help expose and promote their events. Rugby Oregon has plans to use high-speed internet to live stream the matches next year, and is also considering moving to a larger venue.

Illinois State Championships

Date: May 27, Lemont, IL

A combination of unique and professional tactics has benefitted Illinois in their attempt to grow and provide a better atmosphere. Illinois has been gaining rugby interest in recent years and has now included fun and interactive events at their high school finals. David Hall, president of the Illinois Youth Rugby Association, stated they included skills testing and competitions, along with the signing of college scholarships at their championships, which were held on Memorial Day.

Leadership for rugby in Illinois has found taking a professional approach to running them provides for a more positive outcome for everyone involved. They have been pressing for local media coverage, press releases, and grass roots techniques to promote their events. The result has been an increase in the number of spectators, and better competition at the higher levels in high school rugby.

Each individual state has their unique footprint on how their high school season is coming to a close. State championships have not only grown in size and quality of competition, but they are providing student-athletes with a memorable experience with rugby. For some, it may signify the end of their rugby careers. For others, it may be the start of their collegiate career, often aided by scholarships. The positive impact that has been seen by high school rugby for fans and players has been a tremendous stepping stone for youth and high school rugby across the country.