History was made on Monday evening, as Pilgrim became the first public high school in the state to ever field a rugby team when it headed to Bishop Hendricken to take on the Hawks as well as the La Salle Rams.
The Pats split their games, topping La Salle and coming up short against Hendricken in a close contest.
“We went in with no expectations, so we were definitely happy with how we did. We were competitive with both teams, La Salle and Hendricken. The kids were really fired up and we were able to get everyone in … it was a great day,” said Pilgrim coach Scott Bayha of his club’s first official outing.
As a new team, which includes athletes from other sports with little to no experience in rugby, the Pats have been slowly learning the ropes this spring in anticipation of their first action. With hard work at practice, along with some help from Brown University coach David LaFlamme, the Pats were prepared to battle on Monday evening, and did not look like a team that was competing for the first time.
“We’re lucky to have Brown University coach David LaFlamme. He has really helped and really knows (the game), having him has helped us a ton. We actually hadn’t tackled anyone before (Monday), so we were thrilled with how it went,” said Bayha. “I felt that we really represented ourselves well … Hendricken has had a team for 15 years, we’ve barely had a team for 15 days, so I was really proud of the guys and I think it went great.”
Although the Pats have seen steady improvement, and are flying high after such a successful start, Bayha and company still feel like they have much to learn, and are hoping to continue to grow as the season continues.
“We’ve got a lot to learn, but we’ll improve every week. There are many things, it’s a very complex sport … obviously these kids have never played it before, but the more they play and the more they practice the more they’ll learn and they’ll improve every week. Fully understanding the rules will help us improve and get to where we want to be,” said Bayha.
Pilgrim, La Salle and Hendricken are currently the only three schools in Rhode Island that offer a rugby program. The three clubs will battle each week this spring, and are currently discussing competing against teams from other New England states.
Although the game is unlikely to be offered as a varsity sport in the near future, Bayha feels confident that it is on its way to catching on with more people, and will eventually have a strong case for the Rhode Island Interscholastic League to consider.
“Right now, it’s just these three teams, and I think there would have to be more interest in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, but Rhode Island Rugby has been helping out a ton,” said Bayha, who is happy to have his team break the mold and be the first public school to give rugby a try. “That’s their goal, to make rugby a sport in Rhode Island. We are kind of the test subject for other public schools and that’s where we’re out. At Pilgrim, it’s worked great. The kids are enthusiastic and can’t wait to practice, we probably practice more than any other team. It’s been great to this point.”