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'Forever Strong' inspired change, growth for Utah rugby teams

'Forever Strong' inspired change, growth for Utah rugby teams

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SALT LAKE CITY — Rugby has been growing at an incredible rate in the state of Utah. Some rugby organizers say it's becoming so popular, clubs will have to make major changes.

In 2008, a movie was released about Utah's Highland Rugby team called "Forever Strong." Utah Youth Rugby Union President Michael Cressler said that movie sparked an interest in the sport within a lot of children.

Back in 2009, there were only 17 rugby teams in Utah, and the more popular clubs seemed to overpower everyone else.

"There were about three or four very large clubs in the state that consumed everybody," Cressler said.

Now there are roughly 70 teams, including 27 Varsity level teams for high school boys and six Varsity level teams for girls.

You could have a player that has nine or ten years of rugby experience before they ever hit high school.

–Michael Cressler, president of Utah Youth Rugby Union

"We have 14 ninth and tenth grade teams and we have 12 seventh and eighth grade teams," he said.

Those are just the spring teams. The union has been placing a large emphasis on summer and fall leagues, especially for young and middle school-aged kids. Cressler said that is where the growth in Rugby will come from.

"You could have a player that has nine or ten years of rugby experience before they ever hit high school," Cressler said.

In order for the sport to have grown, things had to change. Cressler said they created new bylaws against poaching; essentially making it so kids who live within the boundaries of one school could only play for that school's team. That way one team couldn't dominate the market.

Eventually, the once dominant clubs will have to take a different role in the rugby landscape. Cressler said they will have to work as sort of a farm system for high school teams.

"We're seeing teams coming up, and those teams are seeded with players that haven't just come from the clubs, but, they've come from the seventh and eighth grade teams that were part of those clubs," he said.

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Paul Nelson


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