This past April, the Rugby Club of Washington & Lee played in the national championship of the National Small College Rugby Organization which is the most prestigious tournament for rugby teams in small colleges. Unfortunately for the Screaming Minks, they finished runner up but the best part is that one of our own Radford Rugby Alumni, John Welsh, is their head coach.
After graduating from Radford University John continued his rugby career; playing for Roanoke for two years. Upon moving back to Lexington, VA John remained loyal to his rugby roots and ventured into coaching in 2008 saying “I always loved the game and after we moved back to Lexington I wanted to get involved somehow. Traveling to play was a little too far with a family so coaching was the better option.” In his eleven years of coaching, John knows what it takes for a club sports team to be successful and how hard that can be in a sport that is now the fastest growing in America. He states “…rugby has gotten a lot more competitive. There are small schools everywhere popping up with clubs and many schools like Queen's and Emory & Henry that are behind rugby. They are offering scholarships and paid staff. It's getting harder to compete against those teams.”
Sadly, Radford Rugby, for all our state and national championships, is currently not one of these competitive teams. Gone are the teams of 30-40 players with heavy senior experience that can mentor and develop unexperienced players who have just discovered their love of rugby. John has also experienced this state of affairs at Washington & Lee. Prior to their state and national success, W&L’s rugby club went through the same struggles that Radford Rugby currently faces. John said “Building a core group of guys that is committed to the sport has been the hardest part of coaching a club sport. It took about five years to do so and there were a lot of bad habits that took time get rid of. W&L is 80% Greek so getting guys to be a tight team has been a challenge… but when we have good leaders they pull them in tighter to the team.”
We believe that the current group of Radford Rugby players are this “core group.” Through their perseverance and the support of our alumni, the club is on sound footing to make great strides in the coming years. John echoes this in his advice to the current team; “Build a core group that truly respects and loves one another then expand it. If you can get an athletic core up to 20 or 25 you can compete at a high level. You have to be committed to winning, train hard and show up to every practice” and in his challenge to the alumni of Radford Rugby stating “Get off your butts and show support any way you can! That can be coming to matches, practices, or monetary giving. We have alumni doing a great job of leading the way so jump on board.”
Article Written by John Osborne