Fraser is bringing rugby to the kids

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 10, 2017

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FRASER — Sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey and football tend to dominate the youth athletic scene, but a couple of local individuals are looking to Fraser to change that.

Starting May 20, boys and girls in grades five through eight will be able to explore a new area of athleticism: rugby. The noncontact session is being offered by Fraser Parks and Recreation from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings at Steffens Park, 33000 Garfield Road in Fraser.

Fraser Parks and Recreation Director Christina Woods said this is the first rugby program for city youth, with adult programs existing in the past. At press time, about 10 kids were already signed up for what is estimated to be a five-session event.

The idea to start a youth rugby program was brought to Woods by an adult who plays for the local East Side Anchormen men’s rugby team.

“They’re all about encouraging sportsmanship and teamwork through rugby. … I think it will really entice people who are looking for something different from your average four sports,” Woods said.

The Anchormen player is Blake DeCarlo, whose team plays at Steffens Park under the USA Rugby governing body. He said he brought the idea to Woods because it’s better to get people involved when they’re young, so they can learn the basics.

He said there were people 35 years and older who never played prior to joining the local men’s team. In other areas rugby alumni are starting programs at high schools, for example, to give younger individuals the taste of the sport.

“The ultimate goal is to get kids hooked on it in their middle school years,” DeCarlo said.

Part of that includes a noncontact atmosphere, similar to that of flag football. There’s no tackling; kids will have flags instead, making the activity more attractive to concerned parents.

Matt LeFevre is a friend of DeCarlo’s who is coordinating the inaugural rugby session.

LeFevre started playing rugby in 1995, while he was in the U.S. Marine Corps and living in southern California. When he moved back to Michigan, he played for teams in Detroit, Allendale and then in Fraser — where he met DeCarlo.

LeFevre said the sport has gained popularity due to male and female rugby growing their respective audiences during the Olympics. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find college rugby when flipping TV channels. Some former soccer players might even delve into the sport, especially if they’re looking for something a bit more aggressive.

He has three sons of his own who play rugby on the playground.

“All the kids were sitting around and watching rugby in the Olympics, and they’re excited and asking, ‘Dad, where can we play rugby?’” LeFevre said. “In the Detroit area, kids don’t really have an opportunity to play until high school.”

When LeFevre attended a general rugby meeting, a presentation was delivered on youth rugby. He said that was when he wanted to turn the youth rugby dream into a reality.

He talked to Woods and told her that the kids would need equipment and rugby balls. The city already had rugby balls, as well as football flags and pennies to distinguish different teammates on the field. Woods made flyers to advertise the news.

LeFevre said there’s no reason why rugby can’t be a popular sport, especially in months when some sports — like football — are in their offseason.

“The perfect program is, we get at least 21 kids so I can have three teams of seven,” he said. “We can do some drills to start a session off, maybe working on a skill. … We’d do it almost like a pickup basketball game. Teams meet up at the park, winners stay on the court and losers rotate off. … I wanted to make it as inviting as possible.”

If turnout is satisfactory, the program could expand in the future.

“It’s something that’s new, we’re trying it out and no other cities around us are offering it,” Woods said. “Coaches are running it and that’s half the battle.”

The program is free, though all children must register by May 12. For more information, call (586) 296-8483.