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Rugby on the rise in A-K Valley

| Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
For the Kiski Valley News
Kris Smith of Leechburg runs the ball as Assistant coach Bill Walter teaches safe and proper tackling technique in the game of rugby on Jan. 5, 2013. Bill Shirley | For the Kiski Valley News
For the Kiski Valley News
Players from the Kiski Valley Rugby Club practice the correct scrum technique on Jan. 5, 2013. The newly formed team will play their first game of the season against Burrell on Feb. 16 at a location to be announced. Players on the Kiski Valley team are from Apollo, Kiski and Leechburg school districts. Bill Shirley | For the Kiski Valley News

With rugby seemingly on the rise in the Alle-Kiski Valley, talk of clubs forming has become frequent.

But a new one will go from rumor to reality when it takes the field in the coming weeks.

The Kiski Valley Rugby Club will be competing in RugbyPA for the 2013 season for boys ages 19 and younger. The team has been practicing at the Allegheny Township YMCA on Saturday mornings but plans to move to McKenzie Park in Vandergrift once weather permits.

The team will open the season Feb. 16 against Burrell.

Andrew Carson, a player from Kiski Area, has been waiting for a team such as this to emerge.

“I just always wanted to play rugby ever since I was younger,” Carson said. “I just wanted to try something different. I saw it on TV one day and thought it would be cool to try.”

Kiski Valley coach Seth Erwin said the location of the team's opener still is undecided.

“Right now, we're trying to secure a field,” Erwin said. “We're hoping we can play at Kiski Area High School, but we haven't received confirmation of that yet.”

Rugby generally is unfamiliar among casual sports fans. However, it's a sport that is growing, and Kiski Valley coach Seth Erwin hopes to share his expertise to the interested young players.

“It's such a unique sport,” Erwin said. “Rugby is a true team sport. To succeed, you need all 15 players as a unit. The game is so fast-paced, and there is no stopping. Your weakest link is always exposed, unlike football. It's something where you play one game and fall in love and unlike any other sport I've ever played.”

Erwin has been involved with football and rugby since 2002 at Indiana (Pa.) University, where he played for the club team. He also has experience playing for the Pittsburgh Harlequins.

Players on the Kiski Valley team are from Leechburg, Apollo, and Kiski. Players from other districts can join Kiski Valley as long as their school does not already have a rugby team.

Fox Chapel and Burrell have the only A-K rugby programs.

Carson does not have a football background, but some players, such as Leechburg's Chris Smith, are using the sport to help them hone their skills on the gridiron.

“There are things in rugby like the open-field tackling and a lot of similarities that will help when football season comes,” Smith said.

Smith will be able to play rugby in the spring and football in the fall, but he will not be able to play fall rugby along with the rest of his teammates because of the two seasons' overlapping.

Both Carson and Smith have hopes of playing rugby after leaving the Kiski Valley team. Carson has aspirations of going on to Navy, and Smith is looking at Slippery Rock and Edinboro. Those schools have club teams.

One of the main goals of the coaches is to help their players get to the next level of rugby. Some colleges offer rugby scholarships.

“If we can give one or two of our kids every year an opportunity to play for someone and get a scholarship, then we're a success,” Erwin said. “At IUP, high school players with experience in rugby get a thousand-dollar book scholarship if they come out for the rugby club for one year. That's really what we're doing this for.”

Erwin added that if his team makes it to the state finals, there will be college coaches at the event recruiting.

“For the next Summer Olympics, rugby will be featured as a sport,” Erwin said. “Hopefully it can take off in this area kind of like how soccer has.”

Jesse Huba is a freelance writer.

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