Ready to Scrum
Royal Irish Rugby Seeks 5th National Championship
Writer: Lynda Hedberg Thies
Photos provided by Royal Irish Rugby
The Royal Irish Rugby program is the top-ranked rugby program in the country according to pre-season polls and is based right here in Indianapolis. The 26-year-old program is looking to win its 5th National Rugby Championship this year. As the 2017 National Champions, they have won four national championships in the past seven years and finished as runner-up, second and third in the other three. The program produces a consistently successful team in terms of trophies, awards and championships. But perhaps as important to the coaches is what the program teaches outside of practice and competition that makes them champions on and off the field.
Looking in from the outside, Rugby requires a high level of athleticism with many playing multiple sports throughout the year. Interestingly, rugby is not an IHSAA sanctioned sport or an NCAA sport. It is considered a club sport. Head Coach Scott Peterson played rugby in high school, college and on the U.S. National team and talks about the demands made on the players.
“We expect a lot from our players physically but our greatest mission is to teach boys to become gentlemen,” Peterson says.
The Royal Irish Rugby program was founded in 1992 by Cathedral alum, Ryan Feeney, the fireman and artist that created the Peyton Manning statue prominently displayed at the front of Lucas Oil Stadium. Feeney launched the program because he missed full contact sports and, after running cross country and track for three years, he was ready for something different. The program is open to students whose school does not have a Rugby program with the majority of the players coming from Cathedral High School and Bishop Chatard High School. But they have, at times, had students from as many as seven area schools.
There are many other notable players from the program, including Cathedral graduate, Jack Doyle the Tight End with the Indianapolis Colts. Bryce Campbell Bishop Chatard graduate and Joe Schroeder, Cathedral graduate, who can be seen playing on ESPN 3 for U.S.A. Rugby.
Campbell played four years at Indiana University and was the former Captain of IU Men’s Rugby for three years. He was awarded the sports highest honor, the Rudy Scholz Award, which is the equivalent of college football’s Heisman Trophy Award. But perhaps Campbell’s greatest success to date was playing for the U.S.A. team winning the Americas Rugby Championship, which was the first international win since 1924.
“We were a ragtag bunch of kids that didn’t realize how strong we were as a group until we found ourselves winning a national championship by more than 50 points,” Campbell says. “It is not all the success that makes Royal Irish Rugby so special, the success is simply a byproduct. It is the combination of the boys, the families and the coaching staff that just works. It is a no b.s. group of people that know how to have fun and know how to win. Some of the relationships I built during my years with RIR will last forever, and I will always be proud of my Royal Irish Rugby heritage.”
Rugby is one of the toughest, most physically demanding team sports and is a sport that can be played until you are 40 because there are men’s clubs all over the country. Chris Kaufman, the program’s administrator was responsible for starting the Royal Irish Rugby Society. The Society was designed as a parent organization to allow the coaches to focus on coaching. The Society handles all administrative work, spirit wear, meals and organizes travel for the team. This is no small undertaking as the teams travel around the United States to participate in tournaments. There are no paid positions, coaches are former players that have a passion for the sport and want to give back. These are guys that work full-time, care deeply about the sport but devote a significant amount of time creating a program that not only produces champions but helps shape young men no matter what they pursue in life.
“The program is a fraternity that offers the players an instant network around the world,” Kaufman says. “Whether they choose to play club in college, play at the national or international level or perhaps become a coach, no matter where they live.”
Kaufman played after college for a men’s club in San Diego and refers to those teammates and their families as an extended family to him.
“The best thing about the program is that after the match, we honor the competition,” Kaufman says. “After the final whistle is blown, we recognize that our opponents also have a deep love for the sport and we become friends. It is just unlike any other sport I have been around in my life.”