Overhead lights borrowed from Nassau County illuminated Mepham High School’s football field on the evening of Oct. 17, when members of the Hofstra University Men’s Rugby Club and three former U.S. national rugby team players –– Michael Laczkowski, Glenn Gawronski and Kevin Fegan –– offered a clinic in a sport that, to Americans at least, looks something like a cross between football and soccer.
And, in many ways, it is.
Rugby is said to have originated with an English schoolboy, William Webb Ellis, who, in 1823, disregarded the rules of soccer, or rather football, and picked the ball off the ground and ran with it during a game at the Rugby School in Rugby, England, according to rugbyschool.net, the web site of the school, which was founded in 1567. The rules of the game, properly known as rugby football, were first codified in 1845. There are two forms of rugby –– rugby league and rugby union –– each with a distinct set of rules.
Rugby is now a global sport, with New Zealand, South Africa, England, Australia and France dominating international play. The U.S. national team, sponsored by AIG, currently ranks 18th in the world, according to International Rugby Board rankings.
From Oct. 14 to 17, the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District offered touch rugby clinics in all phys. ed. classes at Calhoun, Kennedy and Mepham high schools and Merrick Avenue and Grand Avenue middle schools through a partnership with USA Rugby and AIG, titled “Rookie Rugby.” More than 2,000 students took part in the clinics. The week culminated with the Thursday evening clinic for 75 district athletes, followed by the Bellmore-Merrick Fall Rugby Classic, featuring four-team round-robin matches.
At the event, student players wore pink T-shirts in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, provided by AIG. Merchandise was also sold at the event, with proceeds benefitting the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program.