Omaha United rugby team numbers dwindle

Mac O'Brien, Staff Writer

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Rugby in the United States is on the rise, with participation rates and popularity steadily growing. But for Omaha United, Central’s combined rugby team, this national trend has not translated into growth. According to social studies teacher and rugby 15s coach Brendon Smith, the team is struggling to attract enough players to continue competing.

“Last year there would be days where we only ended up with like four people at practice and we couldn’t do anything,” Smith said.

The decline has become so dramatic that Smith has said “I could see this being my last year of coaching if it’s a repeat of last year.”

According to Smith, the decline is not limited to Omaha United. League participation rates have become low enough that teams like Papio and Council Bluffs have needed to combine in order to field enough players.

“It’s a problem in Omaha in general, Smith said. “You look at Kansas city, Denver, Minneapolis, I’m sure Chicago… Rugby is on the rise in a lot of states, and there are people who are leaving football to play rugby. But for whatever reason, it just hasn’t quite picked up in Nebraska.”

Senior Shawn Peterson, who has played for Omaha United, speculated that some of the decline was due to some of the more active participants and advocates of the team graduating. Smith believes that a lack of understanding about the sport is what keeps some potential new players away.

“People don’t understand it,” Smith said. “Their stereotype is that it’s kind of like soccer and football mixed. And it is but it isn’t. It’s a very unique sport, but for whatever reason people don’t really want to give it the time of day. But I know that if they did they’d get a taste for it, and they’d absolutely love it.”

And even for those who would be interested in participating, Smith suggested that a lack of information and encouragement could still keep them away. Smith pointed out that one team that has been relatively unaffected by the downward trend is Millard United. According to Smith, the Millard athletic department officially sanctions the sport, providing funding for pads and uniforms for the team.

“We don’t have that school sanctioning at OPS,” Smith said.

Smith said he has contacted the OPS athletic department, and specifically Supervisor of Athletics Stephen Eubanks about the subject, but made little progress. He believes that if more athletes were encouraged to play rugby it would be beneficial to everyone involved.

“Most football coaches don’t realize that by playing rugby they become better football players,” Smith said. “They get faster, they’re more agile, they tackle in a more correct form, in a safer form.”

For Smith, it feels as though the team is close to dying.

“I’d love to keep it going but the only way that can happen is if people go out for the team,” Smith said.

 

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Mac O'Brien, Staff Writer

I'm Mac, a senior, and this is my second year on staff. Outside of newspaper, I like to write fiction. I am also on the diving team.

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Omaha United rugby team numbers dwindle