Rugby at St. Edward High School (Lakewood,
Ohio) was formed as a club sport two seasons ago in the spring
of 1999. Since that time, the club has had such unprecedented
success that the school has made rugby an official varsity sport,
which might make it the only Midwest high school to offer a varsity
letter in rugby. Head coach Matt Minarik (retired Cleveland Rovers
and NOVA player) formed the team along with English teacher and
faculty moderator, Paul Barker, a Kiwi who loves the game with
St. Edward, an all boys Catholic prep school run by the same religious order (Holy Cross) that runs Notre Dame, is known for both academics and athletics. With an enrollment of approximately 850, it is located just outside Cleveland and recruits from the area. The schools wrestling program has a national reputation for excellence and just four years ago St Edward was awarded a national Top Ten academics award.
Coach Minarik started the team when the six-team Cleveland Area High School Rugby League was formed in 1999 by Paul Glatte (Cleveland Rovers). Minariks nephew is a current student (and player) at St Edward and three of his brothers also attended the school.
1st Year-45 Players
With teacher Paul Barker recruiting from the inside, St. Eds was able to sign up 45 boys its first year. St. Edward won the City Championship that season, allowing opponents only three points while scoring 227 themselves.
In its second season, 116 boys signed up at the first meeting; making it the largest sport or club in the school. By the time the first game rolled around, St. Eds had three complete teams in the league and 75 boys attending its twice-weekly practices. St. Eds A side went on to win its second City Championship, holding their Cleveland League opponents scoreless, while amassing 201 points themselves. They went on to place second in the state to Westerville (3rd in the nation) and 4th in the Midwest. Quite a feat for their second season.
To help with the coaching, Minarik recruited the best. Assisting him is Jason Fox, a fellow Rover, St. Edward alumnus (and Hall of Famer), Eagle 7s player and Midwest 7s coach. Fox helped intermittently in the first weeks of the first season, but came on full bore in the second half as the backs coach. Said Fox, I cant believe how much I love coaching these boys. And to do it at my alma mater is that much better. Im hooked.
As the forwards coach, Minarik recruited Mike Hudak. Hudak is also a Rover, St. Edward alumnus, an All-American at Ohio State and a Midwest select player. I had fun when I played, but Im having twice the fun as a coach. These are great guys, commented Hudak.
In addition to Paul Barker, three other assistants help with the large number of players: Brian Lewis, Mark Murray (both retired Rovers and Eds alumni) and Tadaaki Hatta (assistant US Olympic wrestling coach).
And extremely instrumental in the programs success is parent liaison Toni Engoian. She does the work of five and its always first class. We wouldnt be the club we are without her, says an admiring Minarik.
Two days before the 2000 City Championship, Minarik received a letter from St. Edward Athletic Director, Joe Giunta, confirming that rugby was now a varsity sport. This was absolutely wonderful news! Minarik said. Obviously, we are doing something right. Along with varsity letters, the school now contributes funding for the program.
When asked why he believes the club is such a success, Minarik had a one-word reply: Fun! Our philosophy is extremely simple: we have fun. We dont bore our kids with too many drills and diversions. We never run sprints. We only practice twice a week for 90 minutes. The first forty-five minutes consists of drills and the second half is a live scrimmage. The boys have a blast!
Second, everyone plays; thats why we formed three complete teams.
After School Practices
Another important factor is that we practice right after school, which is a huge advantage. If you wait until evening, like many high schools do, you lose numbers quickly, as many boys go home first and then dont bother coming back to practice.
A fourth reason for our success is our in-school moderator, who is our best recruiter.
Id like to think its my brilliant coaching, or our great assistant coaches, but I know better, Minarik added with a chuckle. Dont get me wrong, were good because of Fox and Hudak, but were successful for all the other reasons.
Road To Varsity Status
When asked about achieving varsity status, Minarik elaborates. I think a big reason we got accepted is that we never asked anything of the school. In our first year, we did all our own fund raising and had our own sports banquet. I never called the principal or president and more importantly, he never had to call me!
Also, I worked very hard on putting together excellent PR material. I got articles in the papers about us. I created a weekly game program. I even got us on TV on one of those live morning shows. It was great for the school.
"All we did was give, give, give; the school noticed that and responded. We never asked to be a varsity sport."
Benefitting The School
As far as I know, we are the only school in the Midwest where rugby has varsity status. The school sees it as a great recruiting tool. St Edward president, Brother James Spooner, commented that he sees our boys having a lot of fun. And the Finance Director told us that rugby provides another recreational opportunity for the many boys who dont participate in other programs.
At the end of the season, we give each boy a plaque with his name on it that says they were City Champions. Every player gets one, regardless of whether they were A side or C side. It doesnt matter how much they played or how great an athlete they are. That means a lot to the boys and their parents. Maybe thats why were the largest club or sport in the school.
The school saw all that and then made varsity status happen.
Starting New Programs
When asked about establishing new programs, Minarik gave this advice: Dont go to the AD (Athletic Director). They have enough to do and theyll just say no. Find a faculty person and ask them to be the moderator for a club. The school will then have to accept that and it never goes through the athletic department. And make sure you dont ask for money. After you get a program going and the school sees your success, they will come to you.
When asked about next year, Minarik chuckled, I honestly see us having up to 150 boys at that first meeting and forming four complete teams for the Cleveland League. The League may include as many as six new teams this year.