In an inspiring display of talent and teamwork, the Rye High School Boys’ Rugby team competed, for the first time, in the National Championships, which were held in South Bend, Indiana, over Memorial Day weekend. While the team faced stiff competition against current and former champions, their remarkable journey and resilience have left an indelible mark on the team, their school, and their families who came out in big numbers.
Rye’s Rugby program has steadily gained traction since its inception ten years ago. Last year, the team made it to the NY State finals. This year, the team was nationally ranked for the first time. Their rise was meteoric due to victories against such schools as Fordham Prep, Harvey, Fairfield Prep, Play Rugby Academy, and New Rochelle, and only a narrow loss to archrival Xavier of New York City. Rye High School is now ranked the 14th best rugby school in the country, and it is that rise which helped secure them an invitation to the Nationals tournament for high schools and clubs.
Going up against formidable opponents who had tasted victory in previous years, the Rye team faced an uphill battle. Despite the outcomes of the three matches, the players exhibited exceptional determination, fighting until the final whistle with unwavering spirit and unyielding camaraderie.
Gentlemen, One and All
Rugby is known for its strong team spirit (parents of other teams walked around in T-shirts saying “We, not me”) and its emphasis on gentlemen’s protocol (e.g., only the captain is allowed to speak with the referee, and opposing teams share a meal after the game). Rye’s team demonstrated this sportsmanship in spades.
Head Coach Jim O’Hara, currently in his 9th year in Rye, commended his players for their exceptional efforts, highlighting the progress they had made throughout the season. “These young athletes have shown incredible growth and resilience, especially at Nationals. They may not have come out on top this time, but they have certainly laid the groundwork for future success,” he stated proudly.
In addition to O’Hara, the dedicated coaching team consists of Tim Walsh, Sean Moughty, and Phil Verona, as well as trainers Erin Madden and Gretchen Dressel.
The National Championships were held under ideal sun-swept circumstances, allowing the boys and their parents the opportunity to visit the impressive campus of Notre Dame University, and for the boys to do their warm-ups in its first-class facilities.
In the first match, Rye faced off against Gonzaga, the four-time champions from Washington D.C. In the first half, Rye held a surprising lead, stunning their opponents. But in the end, Gonzaga’s qualities and experience proved too much for Rye and the game ended 40-15. Although the Rye boys fell short on the scoreboard, the players displayed tenacity, showcasing their skills, and battling until the final whistle. (Gonzaga went on to win this year’s championships.)
The team’s second match was against last year’s National champs, Herriman High School from Utah. It was another hard-fought affair, with both teams giving their all. Unfortunately, Rye suffered several injuries, which took some of the team’s strongest players out of contention. Although they were ultimately defeated, the remaining players never lost sight of their goal and continued to exhibit a fighting spirit that earned them the admiration of their peers and supporters.
In their final match, Rye faced a formidable opponent, Jesuit Regis High School from Colorado. Rye got off to a very comfortable 17-0 lead, but fatigue crept in, and even though, they played with heart and left everything on the field, Jesuit Regis won 29-17.
While the losses were disappointing, the Rye team has much to be proud of. O’Hara and supporters pointed out the invaluable experience the Rye boys gained from playing demanding matches under the summer sun in Indiana. They defied expectations and made history by earning a spot in the National Championships, a feat that will forever be etched in their collective memory. Their journey is a testament to their hard work, perseverance, and unrelenting dedication to their sport, and further solidifies Rye’s place as a rising force in high school rugby.
Mark and Cynthia Howard, parents of sophomore Brady Howard as well as driving forces in organizing the supporters’ group around the team, expressed their pride in the team’s accomplishments, emphasizing the positive impact their journey has had on the entire school community. “The Rye Rugby team has showcased the values we hold dear: resilience, sportsmanship, and determination. They have set a shining example for future generations of Rye rugby athletes, and we couldn’t be prouder,” they remarked.
The Rye team returned home with their heads held high. They didn’t have much time for celebration or regret. They are headed to the NY State Championships at Siena College June 10 and 11.
If one were to ask any Rye Rugby player what their ultimate goal is for this year, the answer would be the same: Challenge and beat Xavier!
- Contributed by Roel Smits, Holly Hartman, and Cynthia Howard