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Cumberland Valley rugby sets bar high | Sports Spotlight

The Eagles have a boys and girls rugby club for the first time since before the pandemic.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. — "Get moving! Get Moving," shouts Cumberland Valley rugby co-head coach Jay Abom, as the Eagles run around the practice field.

The sights and sounds might seem familiar, but the sport of rugby is foreign to most unless you're part of the Cumberland Valley Rugby Club.

"We have the benefit of this beautiful field," said Abom, pointing at the field across from the high school. "We're the only public high school in Pennsylvania with rugby goalposts and a dedicated rugby field."

Now, in its 20th season, the club, like any sport at Cumberland Valley is competitive. They've won three state titles and continue to square off with the best competition in the Commonwealth.

"We just played Gregory the Great, which is a small all-boys school and all they do is play rugby," recalled Cumberland Valley Fly-Half Kirk McCann. "The week before that, we played the 12-ranked club team in Berks County. Some of these guys are the guys around the country."

These student-athletes might play other sports for Cumberland Valley in different seasons, but usually, all it takes is giving rugby a try to hook them.

"We're just in the classrooms and we talk to our friends and even random people in the hallway," described Wing Forward Gabriel Belga. "You just walk up to them and you ask, 'Have you tried it? Do you want to try it? You'll really enjoy it.' Once a person shows up, they always enjoy it and never regret coming out."

And this season, for the first time since before the pandemic, it's not just for the boys.

"I had retired from the game in the fall of '21. I was looking to see how I could bring the game to other people and after some conversations with the folks at the school, there had been some girls asking for it, so it just seemed to be a really good fit," recalled girls rugby head coach Jennifer Stratton.  

After suspending operations because of low numbers before the COVID-19 pandemic, the girl's rugby club is experiencing a rebirth.

"All of the players have tested this and they're like, 'Oh my God, I love this!' I think they found another avenue and different opportunities to demonstrate some different strengths that they have and might not have known they've had," added Stratton, who played the sport in college at Penn State University before her time with the Harrisburg Rugby Football Club.

"It's challenging, but it's also fun. We make mistakes and we learn from it. Our coaches talk to us about it," said Cumberland Valley 8-Man Thalia Ibarra.

Word of a new girl's team spread quickly, and so did the interest.

"A lot of people ask me about rugby. What's it like? Where our games are? How can [they] show support," said Second Row Back Claire Snyder. 

Both boys and girls are hopeful to see the sport grow to more schools in the area and state, but also know that they're already part of a worldwide community.

"You can go to just about any city in the world or any town in the world and they'll probably have a rugby team, that if you say you play rugby, you'll be welcomed there," added Abom.

You can find the Cumberland Valley Rugby Club competing on Sunday afternoons at the high school.

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