Rugby in Idaho is growing, quickly. The sport has exploded and Meridian High School Head Coach David Heaton and Assistant Coach Vanessa Monrroy have their fingers on the growing pulse.
Their perspectives are vastly different…Coach Heaton having never played, transitioning his passion for the sport into coaching and Coach Monrroy recently graduating from Meridian as a player and carrying her passion for the sport forward…but their goal are the same. Rugby growth in Idaho and the US.
Both were kind enough to share their experiences and thoughts with Rugby Nation USA which I’ve split into two parts. In part 1 I talk to Head Coach David Heaton.
Rugby Nation USA (RN): Coach Heaton, tell us about your rugby background.
David Heaton (DH): I got introduced to rugby late in life, my best friend who is my next door neighbor, and about 20 yrs my senior played in college back east, he kept talking about it, and I was like what? Then he took me to a game with our hometown men’s club, and I was hooked, that was ten years ago, unfortunately I’m one of the odd coaches that never played, I beat the crap out of my body when I was younger. They didn’t have high school or youth rugby in Idaho when I was younger, otherwise I would have gotten started earlier. Four knee surgeries, and a wrist surgery later I’m pretty hobbled, but I kept studying the game, I couldn’t get enough, and still can’t.
RN: What is it about rugby that hooked you?
DH: It’s a game of brotherhood and I love that.
RN: What got you interested in coaching?
DH: I got my kids watching, and when my oldest son got a chance to play in high school, I went to the practices, and was asked if I wanted to help, that was three years ago. The head coach started a middle school youth team, and asked me to coach it. I had a blast passing along my knowledge and basic principles along to the kids, and it really started from there. The next year I moved up to assist another high school team, and was asked if I would like to start a team at my alma matter, Of course I jumped right on it. Brand new team, being able to start new traditions. I highly believe that’s what rugby is about. Family, brotherhood, and tradition.
RN: So what are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
DH: Meridian rugby is brand new, we have a fair amount of young kids that are brand new to the sport, that love the concept. It’s hard recruiting for something that most have never seen, only heard. Having a few local high schools that the school competes with helps, and probably the biggest recruiting tool is having it back in the olympics. That’s huge for rugby in the USA just in itself.
RN: What’s the future for Meridian Rugby look like?
DH: We are trying to have three teams. A girls team, JV boys, and varsity boys. It’s a work in progress for sure. The kids so far are having a blast. Practices are pretty basic right now, but I’ve assembled a great set of coaches for both girls and guys, and a lot of different knowledge and perspectives of the game. We got a great sponsor, and looking for more, like any rugby club.
RN: What are some challenges you’ve faced?
DH: I’d say the biggest challenge we are facing right now is numbers, the school is still getting a remodel for the fall school year which will really help, and being able to have return players that are ready to perfect skills will be a big help, they will be able to help with mentoring new players. Also as I stated finding sponsors is tough, Idaho rugby is still in its development phase, and growing every year, I’m not sure on numbers but enrollment has grown leaps and bounds every year I’ve been apart of it, and that thrills me.
It’s such a great sport, anyone can play. Its very time consuming as a coach for sure, working full time, being a family man, and an even bigger family man to my new extended Rugby family, but it’s worth it in the long run I think.
RN: Its a young program so, biggest success do far?
DH: My biggest success right now is spreading the word, and recruitment. Winning games and championships will come with time and coaching.
RN: How many teams do you play?
DH: Right now I believe there are thirteen girls teams, and eight division two boys teams. So quite a few, we haven’t got our schedule out yet, but last year I think we played seven different squads across the Treasure Valley, and eastern Idaho.
Meridian High is a new club, and I believe four others this year, that’s a mix of boys and girls, but it’s growing every year.
RN: What’s the Idaho rugby environment look like?
DH: Rugby in Idaho has a great environment, with more clubs, creates more of the “brotherhood,” that rugby is tied too.
RN: Are their local opportunities for kids to continue playing beyond high school?
DH: Having our local colleges like Boise State both men’s and women, University of Idaho, Idaho State University, Rexburg College, and colleges close in Oregon, Utah, and Nevada help for kids to look at for the future, also having two men’s clubs, and a ladies club, allows the kids to see that rugby can be played well into there adult years is a huge bonus.
RN: What are your thoughts on Rugby Idaho?
DH: I think Rugby Idaho has got a great youth development league starting at age 5 to middle school, and a girls pink league is definitely showing Idaho is in the hunt to get this game to levels seen in California, and back east. Plus we are now starting to see more television coverage in our area, so the word is spreading definitely. The more the merrier.
RN: If given the opportunity what would you change about USA Rugby?
DH: I can’t say for sure, but the biggest challenge the USA has right now in my opinion, is we are along way behind the international countries, that started this game, we adapted rugby over to our football, and lost touch for so many years. Now that we are back into it are development league isn’t up to where they are, don’t get me wrong we are strong, but without financial backing like they have, it’s hard. Most teams are all volunteer, unlike the New Zealand’s, Australia’s, England’s, etc. those guys are getting paid, and to me are basically like the pro sports we have here. NFL, basketball, baseball, they have the trainers for when they are hurt to get them right back in the game, the facilities to work out in, perfect pitches, kind of makes us look like we are doing this out in our back yards. A huge bonus is the sponsors, USA big business is starting to catch on, but in my opinion we have a ways to go.
RN: Do you see us getting there?
DH: We’ll get there soon I believe. It’s starting to really catch on here in the states. Once folks realize how interesting and fun this sport is, we will get the fan base, and that will draw big business to sponsor. Baby steps. You have to crawl before you walk. Biggest step that we have accomplished is we are out doing it along side, with the internationals, win, lose, or draw match after match. Blue collar mentality.
RN: Anything you’d like to see different from USA Rugby?
DH: I’d like to see more corporate sponsors in USA rugby, across the board, from youth development to USA eagles. I really don’t see a lot for change, just growth. We need more players, fans, and sponsors. It will come with time. I think USA rugby is doing a great job.
RN: Thank you for your time Coach, good luck this season and beyond.
DH: Thanks Jason for the opportunity.
Mar 13: Meridian HS, Idaho Pt 2 – AC Vanessa Monrroy
Mar 20: Atlanta Youth Rugby
Mar 27: Nampa Rugby Head Coach Chris Kovac