By Tom Crosby
The 2008 Episcopal School of Acadiana High School Ruggerfest
On March 1st and 2nd In the little town of Cade, Louisiana, (just south of Lafayette in the heart of Cajun country) seven high schools gathered to compete in the ESA High School Ruggerfest. Jesuit entered 2 sides and Brighton High School (representing several schools in Tipton County, Tennessee) entered 3 sides. The teams were divided into 2 divisions. Jesuit A-side easily captured the championship in the 1st Division and ESA won the 2nd Division championship defeating Shaw 24-10 in a hard fought final. Also attending the tournament were Rummel from New Orleans and Westside and Mt. Carmel Bel Air from Houston.
The tournament has steadily grown from its inception four years ago to become more and more attractive to teams from outside Louisiana. Coach Craig Malinsky from Westside in Houston said it is an excellent tournament, and he can’t wait to tell other coaches in Houston about it. They usually go to the 16 team high school tournament in Dallas which attracts good competition from sometimes as far away as Canada. The competition at the ESA Ruggerfest is comparable and, like Dallas, only 4 hours from Houston. Westside is a unique Title 1 high school. Coach Malinsky (a Grace King graduate who started playing rugby at Arkansas State University) is a paid coach for the varsity sport of rugby. Rugby is offered as a PE credit and kids come to the sport from all sorts of different sport offerings. Errol Allard, current Junior Eagle on the U-20 side, is a Westside graduate. Brighton High School from just outside Memphis is the current runner-up Tennessee state champions and will be competing in the regional championships this year. The Brighton rugby team is a community side drawing players from 3 high schools in Tipton County, Tennessee. Coach Justin Whitmer said they usually go to the Nashbash High School Tournament in Nashville. It is a 25 team tournament. Coach Whitmer said he would definitely return to the ESA Ruggerfest as it has a higher concentration of quality sides and the weather is much better. The travel and high level of competition helped bring his team together in significant ways. They were humbled by the Louisiana sides and realized that sheer athleticism will not overcome well coached sides who execute fundamentals properly. Coach Tim Falcon of Shaw in New Orleans (who has been to every Ruggerfest since they began in 2005) concurs that it is an excellently run tournament.
One of the tournament’s first-rate referees (Chris Liddy) complemented the excellent organization and care shown to referees. He enjoyed the matches he refereed, as the play was hard but clean. Chris had recently been to a high school tournament in Florida. He refereed a match between a Ft. Lauderdale and a Pennsylvania side. From what he witnessed at the Florida tournament he felt the level of high school rugby in Louisiana has risen to be nationally competitive. He went on to comment that the growth of high school rugby in the state is related to the improvement of Louisiana college rugby and is directly responsible for LSU’s current success and recent visits to the ‘College Sweet 16 Tournament’. He complemented ESA on the quality of their 2 pitches. The best pitch being better than LSU’s and possibly the best rugby pitch in the state. He, also, felt the tournament had incredible crowd enthusiasm and a very pleasant family atmosphere.
Jesuit hooker, Billy Wright, commented that the tournament this year was much better because there were more teams. Etienne Rene (Jesuit’s #8) concurred. He went on the say that the teams from other states gave Jesuit a chance to compare themselves against other teams as they pretty much dominate all teams in the state. The Jesuit A-side won its 2 matches on Saturday against Westside (43-0) and Brighton A-side (57-0). The Brighton side was so impressed by the play of Jesuit that they honored them with a post match congratulatory “circle dance & chant”. For the final on Sunday no team showed up to face the Jesuit A-side.
ESA coach, Brian McIntyre, is looking for the tournament to grow even more. He would like to see the tournament expand to 16 high school teams in 2 divisions. He would, also, like to add a collegiate and a women’s division. They have played with the date of the tournament, but a couple of tournaments held on cold rainy February days have led them to settle on the first weekend in March. The school is looking to add a 3rd pitch and has considerable resources in community sponsorship and support from the school’s booster club, the ESA Legion. ESA has about 100 boys in its high school and about 30 of these are on the rugby team. From sixth grade on all students (boys and girls) are introduced to the sport in their PE classes. The school has tried to start a girl’s side, but the lack of competition has made maintaining interest very difficult.
Coach McIntyre invites all interested in information about next year’s ESA Rugger Fest to contact him at email@example.com.