By Gretchen Althoff Snyder
In 2013, Evan Kamer was looking to fill a void in the otherwise saturated world of Rye youth sports. Kamer’s son found his passion playing rugby on a club team in Old Greenwich, but sadly the club only offered rugby until the age of 15. After joining forces with another Rye resident, Ryan Fitzpatrick, the two men founded Rye Youth Rugby Club (also known as the Rye Rugby Club). While Fitzpatrick started playing rugby in a men’s league in 1991, Kamer never played but wanted to foster his son’s passion in any way possible.
“From the very start,” said Kamer, “our objective was not only to bring a quality rugby playing experience to children from kindergarten through high school, but also focus on sound and safe development of youth athletes to foster the good sportsmanship so often associated with the sport.” In fact, after every match, the team enjoys food and drinks with the opposing team. “The kids can beat each other up the whole match, but they are all brothers of rugby afterwards.”
The club started as a training program for 24 high school students; four years later, the club boasts over 150 kids with four co-ed youth groups and three Rye High School teams (two boys and one girls). In 2016, the boy’s high school team won the Division II New York State Rugby Championships.
Kamer is pleased that the community response has been so positive. Many families in Rye are expats who grew up playing rugby, and are thrilled that their children will have the opportunity to enjoy the sport as well. There are also many families who’ve never been exposed to rugby, and their children immediately take to it.
While some may view rugby as a dangerous sport, Kamer noted, “The fact that NFL teams are adopting rugby tackle drills to improve NFL player safety speaks volumes about the safety of rugby.” The club takes the safety of its players very seriously; so much so that rugby was the first RHS team to have a trainer present at every practice and every match.
Boys and girls as young as 5 can join the rapidly expanding youth program (no tackling at that age), while high school students can come out for one of the three varsity teams. While the club is entirely self-funded, the School District has been extremely supportive of the program since its inception. Jim O’Hara, Head of Guidance, coaches the team along with teachers Jim Rinaldi and Sean Moughty, and rugby professional Blake Mannion.
For more information, visit ryerugbyny.org.
The Rye High School 2016 Boys’ Rugby Division II State Champions
Photo courtesy of Evan Kamer