GREENVILLE — Special to the Fort Mill Times
The Carolina Dragons, a Fort Mill rugby team, took home yet another decisive victory on Friday night to finish their regular season with a perfect record of 7-0. The team, which competes in a league of 16 and has 27 players on their roster ranging in ages from 15-17, now looks forward to their upcoming playoff game scheduled for April 6 in Pineville, N.C.
Even though this may be its inaugural run, the team has been stingy on defense with dominant performances throughout the year. That was on display in Fort Mill’s 38-5 win over host Greenville Friday night.
“We’ve only conceded 10 points all season and we’ve scored something like 320,” said Grant Keers, who co-founded the team.
If The Carolina Dragons win their playoff game, they will then move on to play in the state championships in Columbia with an opportunity to meet Gov. Nikki Haley if they take home the championship.
As one of the nation’s fastest growing sports, there are now 4,800 rugby clubs operating throughout the Unites States. Additionally, rugby has been reinstated as an official Olympic sport for the upcoming 2016 summer games which will be held in Rio Di Janeiro.
Dragons head coach Edward Worrall says the caliber of play on his squad has already been recognized on a national level.
“We’ve got two All-Americans who are going to go to Argentina and Uruguay and play in two tests, which are international rugby games. Those guys are in line to go to the Olympics in 2016,” Worrall said.
Of the 42,000 Americans in the nation who play in the under 19 category, only 40 individuals get selected for a chance to play on the Olympic team. Two of those players, Aaron Keers and Jason Damm, are seniors attending Nation Ford High School.
Grant Keers and Van Wilder formed the Carolina Dragons last October, operating as an independent club that provides local area youth a physical outlet and an alternative to traditional sports.
“We are a charity, everything is charity, fundraising, paying dues,” Keers said. “We take no money from it and any money we make will go into next season to fund the kids’ scholarships, that kind of thing…because we want everybody to be involved, that’s the whole point about rugby, it’s a very inclusive sport.”
Keers was raised in Great Britain but has spent the past seven years living in Fort Mill. Aaron played rugby for five seasons with a team in Matthews, N.C., but when the full-tackle program was discontinued, Keers decided to get together with Wilder to form the Carolina Dragons.
Wilder, who serves as the acting president of the club, says he admires the premise and personality of this often misunderstood sport.
“Unlike American football, everybody on the team at one time or another gets the ball, so they all feel like a member of the team, it’s truly a team sport,” said Wilder.
Upon establishing their team, Keers and Wilder opted to go with Edward Worrall as their coach. Also an expatriate who grew up across the pond in England, Worrall, who has lived in Fort Mill for 11 years, has played professionally all over the world and spent seven years coaching the North Carolina All-Star team.
Worrall says that by acting as a mentor he can educate a younger generation on the nuances of rugby and, in many ways, promote the adrenaline rush that comes from being tied to family.
“A couple of years ago I was away on a business trip and I got stranded. I called up the local rugby club and told them my predicament,” Worrall said.
“The guy came and picked me up, gave me a place to sleep, fed me and then brought me to the airport the next day…for these guys, they will beat the hell out of each other for an entire season and in a couple of weeks time they will get together in Columbia and form a team together called the All Stars. They’ll become the greatest friends…it’s something about rugby, it’s a drug, an incredibly powerful drug,” Worrall said.
To learn more about the game of rugby and joining the team for next season, visit The Carolina Dragons on Facebook.