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SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes real-life plot twists are more dramatic than those on screen. The Highland Rugby team has seen both.
In 2008, their team was the subject of a feature film based on true stories of some of the players.
In 2011, the team learned their beloved head coach, Larry Gelwix Sr., would be leaving to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No replacement was named, and the team did not play the 2011-2012 season. Up to that point, they had a 418-10 record and had won 20 of 27 national championships since 1985.
In 2012, it was learned that Highland Rugby would return for the 2013 season, this time drawing players solely from the Highland High School student body. It wouldn't be the same without Gelwix, but the team would try to uphold his traditions.
"I want you to be forever strong on the field, so that you will be forever strong off the field," Gelwix once said. The quote gave the 2008 film its name, and inspired how the rugby players lived their lives on and off the field.
Off the field, Gelwix's service as LDS mission president took him at the end of June to Fresno, Calif., where his work now centers on inspiring missionaries, not rugby players.
The main storyline concerns an Arizona rugby player who played for Highland after being sent to live in a group home in Salt Lake City.
After ending up at the national championships, the player realizes he will be playing against a team coached by his father.
The title, "Forever Strong," was based on the Highland Rugby team motto.
The movie was filmed on location in Salt Lake City at three different high schools. Multiple rugby players from both the University of Utah and Brigham Young University played in the film.
"Our hearts, our minds, our energy, our intention will all be on the California Fresno Mission and inviting people to come to Christ," Gelwix said at the time of the move.
With Gelwix in Fresno, a new coach has been named: Mark Numbers, a graduate of Highland High alumnus and former Highland Rugby player.
Gelwix said he was "thrilled" to see the return of Highland Rugby with Numbers at the helm.
"He is the right person to lead Highland Rugby forward," Gelwix said.
During Numbers' 1992-1996 time on the team, he participated on three national championship teams. He went on to play the sport for the University of Utah, later becoming the team's head coach.
He said he was honored at the opportunity to return to Highland to coach.
"My experiences at Highland were life shaping and I hope that I and my coaching staff can similarly prepare future generations of Highland Rugby players for the game of life," he said.