First, Chris White had to learn the game, and then came the win.
White and his rugby club at Clarion University won the Allegheny Rugby Union (ARU) Bowl championship, and advanced to the National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) Bowl playoffs. The NCR Playoffs started at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and finished 700 miles away in St. Louis, Missouri, against — ironically — Grove City College.
“The most enjoyable experience is, without a doubt, winning the ARU Bowl,” said White, a Clarion/PennWest senior who played football and wrestled at Warren Area High School. “It was a nice, sweet victory, especially since we weren’t 100% sure if we had a 15-man squad this year or if we had a program a year ago. The hardest part has to be the start of the season. It was almost disappointing to have those losses.”
Early-season competition for Clarion was intentionally tough (as if the no-helmet/pad-less sport isn’t tough enough). The Small College team’s 0-4 start from September 10 to October 8 included a 65-0 loss to Division 2 Kent State.
Well, the season started off rough. White said. Our coach intentionally started our tough season playing Division 2 Kent State, Slippery Rock (8th in the country at the time/NCR Small College) and Franciscans (6th in the nation at the time/NCR Small College). We also have a lot of kids playing. They had never played before or, in my case, never played 15 players before, so it was a learning experience.”
More than a month into the season, Clarion had its first win.
“We got our first win playing against SUNY Fredonia” White said, “Then he opted for a bowl series where we would play in the playoffs for the Allegheny Rugby Union Bowl, which we ended up winning (three weeks later on November 5) against SUNY Fredonia, 90-7. Then we had to beat St. Vincent’s College to qualify To the playoffs in St. Louis…
“In St. Louis we got to the finals and lost to Grove City, which is weird we had to go to St. Louis to play it off topic,” White said. “As I said before, we had a difficult start to our schedule, playing really good teams with more experience,” which White said helped Clarion and the players prepare for the elimination matches.
Despite losing 51-5 to Grove City, play in the Small College Challenge Bowl Series in the Midwest showed this team’s resilience after an 0-4 start.
“The game, like I said, didn’t go our way,” said White, whose Golden Eagles won five straight plus a loss to advance to the championship. “We came out very flat with not much energy and on a personal level I was very nervous. When I was inside I played as hard as I could. Unfortunately I had the bell ring as the reviewer told me to come out and for 15 a side, no You can come back again as soon as you get laid off. The team, after nerves, started to play better, (but) we lost some key pieces to injuries and some of them just couldn’t make the trip on such short notice. Grove City capitalized on that…
“We wouldn’t have even come close to where we are now without our captains, Ethan Zdarko and Andrew Guth, or our coaches, Dr. Mark Sanko, Andrew Wilson and Dalton Mills.”
For his college experience, a trip to St. Louis was the icing on the cake.
Bonding wise, it’s cute. White said. “We are, for the most part, all friends. We spend a lot of time outside on the field together hanging out, playing video games, and getting food.
“Unfortunately, for my mom (Marcia), I would say, yes, this is a sport that I will continue to do,” Chris said. “Like I said the last time (we talked), I fell in love with her. I love men, so I’m going to keep going.
“I started playing rugby in the spring on a whim from my friends who suggested it to me, and since then, I’ve like to say I’ve grown as a player and as a person,” Wyatt posted on Facebook after the ARU title match. “Just like me, my teammates have grown a lot. This win means a lot. I’m so proud of my team…and the amazing coaches who have helped us grow.”