The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian


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Opinion | ETHS should have a rugby club

Parker Krzystofiak

When you picture a high school sporting event, what image pops into your head? Is it the bright lights of a football game on a Friday night? Is it the squeaky sound of gym shoes landing on the hardwood floor of a basketball game? Or perhaps you picture a swimming pool, a tennis court or a baseball diamond? People in countries such as New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, and Ireland likely wouldn’t picture any of those things. Instead, they would probably picture 30 students on a grass field, not wearing any pads, tossing, punting and carrying an oval shaped ball. And these students would be playing the game of rugby. With 2023 ushering in flag football for girls and badminton for boys, we believe that the next step for ETHS athletics is the addition of a rugby team

What is Rugby?

According to the USA Rugby official website, rugby was created when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball with his hands in the middle of a soccer match in 1823. Ellis didn’t know this at the time, but he had just created a sport that would one day become a worldwide phenomenon, with more than 6.6 million registered players in the world in countries from Ireland and Scotland, to the United States and Canada, to Japan and more. Rugby was also the seed from which American football grew. In the game of rugby, players toss, kick and run with an oval shaped ball towards the tryzone of the opposing team. Much like American football, the opposing team attempts to stop the team with the ball from scoring by tackling them. Unlike American football, however, when a player is tackled the play isn’t over, instead the player is forced to toss the ball backwards to a teammate. In fact, rugby play will only stop for a try (a touchdown in American football terms), when the ball goes into touch (out of bounds in American football terms), or if a player is fouled. A full rugby match is 80 minutes, making rugby a sport of intensity and endurance.

Why Rugby?

Of all the sports that ETHS can realistically create a team for (meaning they wouldn’t need to build a new field or gym to play the sport), rugby is the most popular by a landslide. While many Americans might write off rugby as the rest of the world’s version of American football, that isn’t necessarily true. According to US Sports Scholarships, there are more than 1,200 high schools that have both a rugby team and an American football team. This statistic does not include high-school-affiliated rugby clubs, so that number is most likely much higher. Rugby is also prominent locally; New Trier high school has its own rugby club with great success and turnout. The club won the 2016 rugby state championship and has three full rosters of players (varsity, JV, frosh/soph).

Not only does rugby meet the popularity threshold to be successful, but we believe that the community of Evanston is also well prepared for a rugby team. Because rugby is played on grass, there would be very few needed additions to create a rugby field in the Evanston area. When asked, ETHS strength coach Sean O’Connor enthusiastically stated he would be happy to coach a rugby team or club if it was made.

“I already have my L1 to coach rugby,” O’Connor said. Mr. O’Connor notes that he has friends who would love to assist in rugby matches. With all of the resources for a team and a potential coach waiting in the wings, The Evanston community is ready for a rugby team.

Concerns for Rugby

The most immediate and prominent concern for playing rugby in high school is the safety of the sport. After all, seeing people continuously tackling each other without pads is an objectively uncomfortable sight. In reality, though, rugby’s lack of pads will often lead to more safety when compared to its counterpart of American football. Jeff Chirsee of Bleacher Report compared these two sports, and pointed out that  players wearing large pads “are far more likely to have a feeling of invincibility” when playing their sport. Consequently, football players “tend to throw themselves into contact with less regard for self-preservation, whether it be in blocking or tackling.” In rugby, however, tackling technique is valued much more due to the nature of not having pads.

“You can’t just go out with your shoulder, you always have to wrap, you have to hit them below the shoulders,” O’Connor said, adding that “there are a lot of rules implemented that allow for safety.” These rules are designed to protect the players from concussions and other injuries. Due to the fact that rugby play rarely stops, throwing yourself violently at an opponent will burn your energy far too quickly to be an impactful player.

Another thing that many people don’t realize is that rugby actually does have a lot of equipment that makes the sport safer. Players often choose to wear mouthguards, headgear and thin padding under their shirts, which greatly reduces serious injury risk. So sure, if you put a bunch of kids with no idea how to play rugby on a field, there will be a lot of injuries. However, if players have the correct equipment and “if the coaching is there and is high level” (low, leading with the shoulder), rugby will be just as safe as other high school sports.

Pros of Rugby

Rugby will be a great addition to ETHS athletics because it will not only teach many important skills and values that everyone should have but also open up many paths and create new opportunities for its players. Rugby is a very team-centric sport, requiring everyone to work together in unison in order to win. Because of this, the sport of rugby can create lasting “bonds and friendships” says O’Connor. These friendships will last a lifetime and create many memories. The sport will also teach players important skills like “toughness” and the “ability to be coachable,” which can help high school students in many other fields. Accountability is another skill that rugby will teach the people who play the sport. In order to succeed, everyone has to do everything, making it so one player is just as important as the next. Making a mistake can affect the whole team, but you can make up for it on the next play and move on.

Not only will rugby teach important life skills but it can also open up many opportunities for players. Because rugby is an international sport, there are opportunities to advance to the next level of play and eventually even go pro. A friend of Sean O’Connors who played football in college switched to rugby and now plays sevens in a pro league. This is just one example of the many other opportunities that can happen as a result of playing rugby. With rugby creating friendships and memories, teaching important skills, and creating new opportunities, it should be considered to create a rugby team or club at ETHS.

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About the Contributors
Jeremy Schoen, Staff Writer
My name is Parker Krzystofiak (he/him), and I’m an artist for the Photo & Art section. I think the art is a cool way to represent Evanston. Outside the Evanstonian, I row for ETHS as well as attend Climate Action and Model UN. Outside of school, I like biking, drawing, and working as a bike mechanic. 
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    David PorterOct 3, 2023 at 2:56 pm

    ETHS definitely had a rugby club in the 1970’s/1980’s, coached by the esteemed English teacher Bruce Mitchell. When did that go away?