Wallenpaupack Area and Delaware Valley embracing a "new" sport
It was a picture perfect afternoon at Wallenpaupack Area. The skies were a brilliant blue, the sun was shining and a gentle breeze was blowing in off The Big Lake.
Football players worked on drills in one corner of the athletic complex, while budding track stars practiced sprints and relays.
The center of attention on this particular day, though, was a small group of boys in the middle of the turf.
Clad in reversible pinnies, they were tossing around an oddly-shaped ball in what appeared at first glance to be a game of two-hand touch.
However, it only took a minute of observation to realize that the sport wasn't football. No, what these local lads were playing was a scaled-down form of one of the fastest growing sports in the country: Rugby.
Under the watchful eyes of coaches Keith Fitzpatrick and Tim Tirjan, about a dozen kids from Paupack and Delaware Valley were learning the basics and putting them into play.
“We formed the Upper Delaware Valley Rugby Football Club last year,” Coach Fitzpatrick said.
“We're open to any high school player in our area. It sounds cheesy to say this, but rugby changed my life and I really want to share that experience with as many kids as I can.”
Coach Fitzpatrick has played rugby for more than 20 years. He's a 1994 graduate of DV where he played football.
Upon arrival at Penn State, though, Keith realized he didn't have a realistic chance to play Division I football.
It was then that he discovered the sport that would play a huge role in his life for the next two decades.
“Penn State has a very competitive rugby program,” said Coach Fitzpatrick. “And I had an amazing experience there.
“To be honest, I was a short fat kid coming out of high school. After five years of rugby at Penn State, though, I lost 50 pounds and became one of the most physically fit guys on the team.”
Keith continued his playing career after graduation. In fact, he even traveled to England where he played on a club team based at Kenilworth.
Coach Tirjan is a math teacher and junior varsity softball coach at Paupack. He's also played rugby for two decades.
Both are enthusiastic and excited about the idea of a locally-based rugby club.
“The kids are really into it,” Coach Fitzpatrick said.
“Our numbers are a little light right now, but we're making progress. To have a solid team for the things we want to do, you need at least a dozen dedicated players. We're not quite at that yet, but we're definitely getting there.”
The club is hoping to begin playing tournaments in the near future. Coach Fitzpatrick believes that they'll likely combine with another smaller club to start, then break off on their own when the roster eventually fills up.
“Rugby is a rewarding game that can be played all throughout your life,” he said. “You can start as early as Mini-Rugby for kids under eight and keep playing into your 60s.”
On the Field
Rugby is played on a field just bit larger than football, measuring 100M by 65-72M.
Traditional teams play games of 15v15. Matches are divided into two 40-minute halves. At the high school level, they play “Sevens,” which means teams of seven and 7-minute halves.
“It's a much different game,” Coach Fitzpatrick said. “Sevens is much more about running, ball handling and conditioning and less about physical contact.”
A team scores by advancing the ball past the opposing team's tri-line. A player touches the ball down and earns his team five points. You then have a chance to kick a conversion that's worth two points.
Penalty kicks, which resemble field goals in football, can be attempted from anywhere on the field and they're worth three points apiece.
The ball is advanced either by running it or kicking it. Passing the ball forward is illegal. Rugby is a team sport, its also a full contact sport with no pads.
“I've played both sports and I've found the contact to be more controlled in rugby,” Coach Fitzpatrick said. “It's definitely a physical game and it can look pretty violent. I don't really know how to describe it, but the contact is different than football.”
He stresses that rugby has room for virtually any body type … from bigger and stronger to smaller and quicker.
Over & Out
According to Coach Fitzpatrick, Rugby has been the fastest growing sport in the US for sometime now.
Most colleges have both men's and women's teams. There's also a burgeoning program of adult leagues and a new American professional circuit called Major League Rugby.
Rugby debuted as an Olympic sport at the Summer Games at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The Rugby Sevens World Cup is taking place on American soil at San Francisco later on this summer.
If you'd like information on the Upper Delaware Rugby Football Club, please visit the Facebook page or email email@example.com.