GRAND RAPIDS, Mich --
Chances are the first time you saw rugby you were confused. In fact, it's entirely possible you have seen a lot of rugby and you're still not quite sure what is going on.
“Actually I think my mom still doesn’t know what is going on and she had been to probably 50 or 60 games," says West Catholic rugby player Jake Sera.
Play is continuous and teams attempt to advance the ball across a line to score a try. Players wear numbers based on the position they play and some of the positions have interesting names, like hooker.
Jason Hutton “What do people say to you when you tell them you play hooker?”
“Sometimes they take it the wrong way but after I explain it to them it gets cleared up they laugh about it sometimes," says West Catholic rugby player Evan Bourque.
Rugby is very popular in Europe and Australia, but might be on the rise in America. Grand Rapids Catholic Central has had a team since 1998 and won the division one state championship last season.
“We have seen multiple teams every year come in, this year we have three divisions, we have a D-1, D-2, D-3 and we have just implemented a jayvee division to try and build more in the youth aspect," says Catholic Central coach Mike Marshall. "We have got a lot of younger kids so that older seniors aren’t really playing with new, less experienced kids.”
“I feel like it is growing," says Catholic Central rugby player Will Dool. It’s been getting on TV a little bit, I feel like more and more kids, the high school league has been getting more and more teams.”
Last November, the New Zeeland All Blacks came to Soldier Field to play the USA Eagles, a game that was won on national television. In West Michigan more and more high schools are starting to field teams. Grandville won the 2013 state title and West Catholic recently broke away from a co-op with Catholic Central and is now in it's 3rd year as a single school team.
“We started out our first year we had 18 players, this year we have 40 kids,” says West Catholic coach Todd Beaudoin.
Evan Bourque says “everyone gets to run the ball, I play football and I’m a lineman so I don’t get to run the ball or touch the ball really, being able to run the ball and everyone is involved, it’s so much fun.”
Rugby has been described as football without pads and while that is not exactly accurate, injuries immediately come to mind, but those who play say the likelihood of getting hurt is not that great.
“There is a mutual understanding that neither of you have pads on so you won’t get hurt," says Bourque. "There is a possibility but there is not that high of a chance.”
Rugby is currently a club sport in Michigan, but the hope is that it will one day become a varsity sport sanctioned by the MHSAA.