FORT MILL --
The newest team in Fort Mill is one you probably haven’t heard of – yet.
The Fort Mill Dragons is not another soccer team or an up and coming lacrosse team; It’s not even a Little League team.
It’s a rugby club team based out of Fort Mill but made up of Fort Mill and Nation Ford High players, along with kids from high schools in Charlotte.
The club team has a middle school age group ranging in age from 10 to14 and another from 15 to18.
Head coach Edward Worrall has been involved in the sport for 21 years and said rugby is on the rise around the state in places like Charleston, Columbia, Irmo, Greenville and Aiken.
“Rugby is one of the fastest-growing sports and it’s a low-cost sport,” Worrall said.
There are more than 457,000 players registered with USA Rugby, including 396,000 high school students and there are 2,588 rugby clubs in the United States.
The Dragons started their preseason schedule in October and went 3-0, beating West Columbia 21-5, Aiken 19-0 and Charleston 14-0. They will play their first regular-season game in February. Their season will run through April and they will play one match a week.
“Out of the 30-player squad that started training together for the first time in late October, 22 of them had never played the game before,” Worrall said.
Worrall said the team is always looking for more players.
“The main aspects that rugby prides itself on is that we never turn a player away, small or large, fast or slow, there is a position for you,” he said.
The team uses fields in Pineville, N.C., to practice, because Worrall said they can’t use fields owned by the Town of Fort Mill.
“We want to come to Fort Mill,” Worrall said.
Fort Mill Parks and Recreation Director Brown Simpson said the reason Worrall couldn’t use the fields was simply due to “a lack of availability.”
The town, which held a forum last summer to discuss recreation needs, is already stretched to the limit accommodating existing teams, officials said.
Simpson said he did offer Worrall the use of one field near the strawberry patches, but Worrall turned it down because it doesn’t have lights and didn’t fit his practice schedule.
Worrall said the club is in talks with the Fort Mill School District about using its fields, but nothing has come of it so far.
To the uninitiated, rugby appears to be a combination of soccer, American and Australian rules football, “Kill the Guy with the Ball” and an all-out brawl. Once you understand how the game is played, however, you realize it’s as nuanced as any other sport and requires the usual athletic skills, such as coordination and timing, speed, strength and above all, teamwork.
Popularized in the United Kingdom in the 19th century, Rugby became an Olympic sport in 1900. The U.S. team won a gold medal in rugby in 1924 – the last year it was played in the Olympics. The sport is scheduled to make a return to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
There can be seven to 15 players on each team. Goals are scored by carrying or kicking the ball past a designated line. Lateral passing is allowed, but forward passes are not. The opposition can stop players by tackling them and only those with the ball can be tackled. Once that happens, the opposition can then try for the ball.
Games last 80 minutes – 40 minutes for each half.
Worrall said the Fort Mill Rugby Club is serious about the sport and points out that it gives players another route to a college athletic scholarship. Schools like Furman University, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina all have rugby clubs.
Worrall said he hopes rugby, like lacrosse recently, will become an S.C. High School League sport.