Concord-Carlisle High School’s athletics program has always offered a wide variety of sports that suit just about anyone’s interests or talents.
This spring, there will be one more sport on the menu: rugby.
“I look at it as a way of giving back to the sport and the community,” said David Manion, who will be C-C’s coach when practice begins on March 20.
Manion started playing the sport in his native Australia and has been living in Concord for 10 years. He’s played for the Boston Irish Wolfhounds as a part of some national championship teams and has also coached in the program. He’s coached at Tufts University and once coached a women’s program in Canada.
The program at C-C will be a boys program to start, though Manion hopes it will grow into boys and girls teams.
Prior to the Covid pandemic, Manion coached a youth program in Concord and Carlisle. He reached out to the athletic department at C-C a few times and this year, athletic director Aaron Joncas granted approval.
“I sent him an email,” Manion said. “He wants kids to be exposed to as many different sports as possible.”
While a handful of high schools in Massachusetts have offered rugby for decades, it was not until 2017 that the MIAA officially sanctioned the sport. Currently, there are 19 schools that offer boys rugby in MIAA competition, with teams split into two divisions. There are seven girls programs,
Belmont High is the defending MIAA Division 1 champion in boys and the defending girls champion. Weymouth High School captured last year’s Division 2 boys title.
Two other Dual County League schools, Lincoln-Sudbury and Cambridge Rindge & Latin, offer rugby. L-S’s girls team was last year’s state girls runner-up, while in 2021, Cambridge reached the Division 2 boys final.
Other nearby schools with programs include Chelmsford High School and Algonquin Regional High School.
Manion said the coaching staffs at Belmont, L-S and Chelmsford have been particularly helpful with helping his efforts to launch the program at C-C.
“The contact really binds a team together.”David Manion, CCHS Rugby coach
While this will be the first time rugby will be available to student-athletes at C-C, many past Patriot athletes have gone on to play the sport in college and on adult club teams. Michael Levinger, a C-C football captain in 2017, spent his summer after graduation in the Mystic River Rugby Club’s youth program before going on to play for Colgate University.
Whitney Warren, a standout softball player at C-C in the early 2000s, was an All-America in rugby at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
In the spring, C-C has several established, successful programs. Lacrosse, tennis and track teams on the boys and girls side have done well for years, as has softball on the girls side. Baseball has also experienced its share of success.
Even with all of those options available for C-C athletes, Manion is optimistic there are still some kids who haven’t found their niche yet and that rugby might be for them.
“We’re looking for anyone, really,” Manion said, “anyone who’s interested in learning a new sport, a contact sport. The contact really binds a team together.”
Manion said he’s already talked to C-C’s hockey and wrestling teams, trying to appeal to any athletes from those sports who might be looking for something to do in the spring.
A rugby team has 15 players on the field at the same time. Manion hopes to have at least 20 players to allow for some substitutes.
The game is probably best described as no-huddle option football where anyone can carry the ball and everyone plays offense and defense. Players advance the ball by running with it, passing it laterally and kicking it.
“It’s nonstop, continuous action,” Manion said. “And there are plenty of opportunities to make tackles.”
While rugby players wear minimal padding compared to other contact sports, the coaches and officials stress safety and have received extensive training in teaching and officiating the sport in a safe manner.
The techniques that rugby rules require for legal tackles have been adopted by many football teams as a way to reduce the chances of sustaining a concussion.
Manion also wants to pass along the unique culture of the game to his players.
“You learn about respect for your opponents and the referee,” he said. “You play hard and when it’s over, you sit down and eat with the opponents.”
For more information about C-C’s rugby program, please visit cchsrugby.com.