By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – In a city known for its football, a new sport is making a name for itself in Titletown.
The Green Bay Youth Rugby club is gaining popularity in the area and program organizers see a lot of potential for even more growth.
“I think the main reason (youth rugby) is growing is that we focus on what youth sports used to be about,” said club manager Matt Goetsch. “While we want our teams to win, we see winning as a result, not the goal.”
With this focus, Goetsch said the club has been able to have a lot of success on and off the field.
“We focus on fun, leadership, teamwork and sportsmanship,” Goetsch said. “We have boys and girls, big kids and little kids and everyone plays. There is a spot for everyone on the team.”
“I like that during every game I get to run the ball, pass the ball and tackle people,” said player Dion Skenandore, 12, of Ashwaubenon. “Everyone gets to play a lot. They don’t play favorites like some other sports.”
The Green Bay Youth Rugby club launched as a co-ed flag program in 2013.
“Our (co-ed flag) program has grown from only nine kids at our first practice to last season where we had 100 kids and expect large growth again this year,” Goetsch said.
Goetsch said as the population of experienced middle school players grew the interest in a tackle program grew, which sparked the launch of the boy’s middle school tackle team – the Leprechauns in 2016.
Same is true of the addition of the girl’s middle school tackle team – the Banshees in 2017.
“We currently have more than 40 kids playing tackle, split pretty evenly between our boys and girls teams,” he said. “We are excited to have the largest middle school team in the state.”
Goetsch said the easiest way to explain tackle rugby is that it is a combination of football and soccer – it has the continuous, wide open play of soccer, but the scoring and tacking of football.
In rugby, players have to touch the ball down in the endzone to score a try.
“The football term touchdown actually comes from rugby and the need to touch the ball down to score,” Goetsch said.
Unlike football, in rugby there is no forward passing or blocking.
One of the biggest challenges the club faces, according to Goetsch, is overcoming the belief that rugby is more dangerous than other sports.
“While tackle rugby is a contact sport, when played smartly, the goal is to have the ball do the work and pass until you find a gap in the opponent’s defense,” Goetsch said. “We focus heavily on training the kids to be safe in the tackle, and players are taught to keep their head out of the tackle.”
Flag rugby is a simplified, fast-paced, non-contact version of tackle.
Rugby has always been a part of 14-year-old player Cecelia Rose’s life.
“My dad played in high school and has been playing (and coaching) ever since,” said Rose, of Denmark. “Even if my parents weren’t (involved) I would still play. I love our club because it’s so personal and everyone learns how to come together as a team.”
Rugby mom Melissa Trepanier couldn’t agree more.
“So many sports today talk about sportsmanship and teamwork being important, but yet fall short,” said Trepanier, of Denmark. “I truly think the respect on the field of a rugby match is like no other.”
Trepanier’s daughter Ragen has been a member of the girl’s middle school tackle team since its start.
Her son Collin is part of the sixth grade development tackle team.
Both have been playing in flag program since 2015.
“I love the positive team experience,” Ragen Trepanier said. “The comradery of the girls and support of the team is unlike any other.”
It is the goal of club organizers to continue to grow the youth program and part of that means building a permanent home for rugby in northeast Wisconsin.
“Due to our amazing growth over the last few years, we are working to build a set of fields that will be dedicated to rugby,” Goetsch said.
Currently, the club practices and plays on different fields throughout the area depending on condition and availability.
In addition to the youth rugby program there are a handful of high school men’s tackle teams in the area including the Green Bay Leprechauns, which are an extension of the youth program, the De Pere Red Dogs, the Green Bay Mavericks, and the Pulaski Roos.
More information on the club can been found at gbyouthrugby.org or head out to Scray Hill Park in De Pere at 9:30 a.m. this Saturday, April 27 to see the teams in action at the De Pere 7s Tournament.