Woodlands Youth Rugby Club builds next generation of players

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Over the past nine years, Woodlands Youth Rugby Club has grown to include more than 220 athletes, making it the largest youth rugby club in Texas, head coach and club Director Frank Rizzo said.

Woodlands Youth Rugby Club was founded in 2009 by a local group of athletes who played touch rugby through the YMCA and wanted to play contact rugby. Because the YMCA does not allow contact rugby, Rizzo said the athletes founded their own league.

“Rugby really stems from camaraderie, and you make lifelong friends through this sport,” Rizzo said.

Woodlands Youth Rugby Club offers coed play for athletes in grades 1-6 as well as a boys junior high school team, a girls high school team, a boys high school junior varsity team and a boys high school varsity team. First- and second-graders play touch rugby, while contract rugby is introduced as players get older, Rizzo said.

“We really want to try and develop the seventh- and eighth-grade girls teams next year because we have a lot of girls who play in first-sixth grade, and then there’s a gap where they do other things like soccer and lacrosse,” Rizzo said.

As the team’s season wrapped up in May, the high school boys varsity team was two points away from reclaiming its state championship title in 2018.

However, Rizzo said there is more to the game than winning.

“They left everything on the field—you can’t ask for more,” he said.

In his first year as head coach, Rizzo said he has worked to shift the club’s focus from the high school level to the youth level. The club is also working to improve the sport’s reputation as a dangerous activity by placing emphasis on proper technique.

“When my kids started playing contact rugby, I was a little nervous,” club President Charlie Hopkins said. “Parents tend to believe this myth that it is just too brutal, but if they actually go and watch a game, I think they’d have a different perception.”

Over nearly a decade, the club has graduated numerous athletes, who have gone on to continue playing rugby on college club teams or on local clubs for men and women. Rizzo said some players have even gone professional, playing for the Houston SaberCats.

“That, to me, is the mark of whether I’m successful as a coach,” Rizzo said. “I’m just giving them a foundation and an appreciation for the sport. If we’re graduating kids and they’re continuing to play, then we’ve done our job.”

Alden Bridge Sports Park
4751 Hwy. 242, The Woodlands
www.woodlandsrugby.org

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Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a full-time reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. She covers business, transportation, health care and other local news, specializing in Shenandoah City Council and Montgomery County nonprofit organizations.
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