While it may still be considered an underground, grassroots sport by many, rugby is actually one of the fastest growing sports in the country.
Hudson, who is currently working toward a school counseling master’s degree at Lee University, first became introduced to rugby in 2009.
“I started playing at Lee in 2009 because I was trying to impress a girl. I dated her for a little while but then stuck with my true love,” Hudson joked.
Five years later, Hudson is now the recruiter for Lee’s rugby club, and, after a couple years of hard work, he got a boys high school rugby club started up in Bradley County.
“I’ve wanted to do this for years, one of the big reasons being that I am the recruiter for Lee University. I think that kids need the opportunity to play another sport, like the ones who aren’t ‘athletic’ enough to be on the football team. This offers them an alternative,” Hudson explained. “The kids who have stuck around love it. There are some who are already planning to go to college to play.”
Those who are not familiar with the sport may consider it to be an extremely violent game, but according to Hudson, his group had no injuries more serious than a sprain.
By the end of the match, all the physicality and roughness is left on the field.
“You spend 80 minutes trying everything you can to tear the other person’s head off, so after the match you’ve already thrown your blows and you just kick back and relax,” Hudson explained. “In rugby, we all understand that we won’t have careers in this and if we do get a scholarship, it’s not going to be a big one. We all do this for fun and realize that we have to go back to our day jobs tomorrow. You want to hurt the other team enough to win, but you don’t want to intentionally injure someone; we take no pride in that.”
According to Hudson, high school rugby lasts for 60 minutes, with no time outs and one 10-minute half time.
The 15 players on the field are broken into either forwards or backs. The forwards are the big, strong, less speedy players who are involved in the scrums and line outs. The backs are the smaller, faster skill players who score the points.
Initially Hudson had 100 kids sign up to find out more about the newly formed rugby club, and by the time their first tournament came up, there were 24 on the team.
In their inaugural season, the self-dubbed Bradley County Wolf Pack finished 4-3 in the regular season and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The team is a part of the Smoky Mountain Athletic Club and faces clubs out of the Knoxville area and McMinn County.
“Everywhere in America, rugby is still considered a club, even the teams that are fully 100 percent funded are clubs because it’s not an NCAA sport,” Hudson said.
Polk County and East Hamilton used to have high school rugby clubs, and one of Hudson’s other goals is to help them build their teams back up.
The team has been practicing at the Boys and Girls Club but is actively looking for a local school to embrace and allow them access to their facilities.
Despite their first-year status, one of Hudson’s senior captains was offered a partial scholarship to play rugby at Lee, and three players are in the selection process for the U-19 USA South team. If selected, they would be seeking sponsors so that they could play on an international stage against Trinidad, Bermuda, Mexico and the Cayman Islands in July.
With the success of the boys rugby club, the recruiter is working on getting 7-on-7’s going for the summer and also looking to get a girls rugby club established as well as one for middle schoolers.
“We need more quick guys for the 7’s. It’s a lot more entertaining for people to watch, because there’s not 30 bodies lying on the field,” Hudson commented. “We are also in desperate need of any sponsors. My guys have little to no gear and look very amateur next to some other teams. We do have jerseys that were donated by Lee University.”
While there are many different positive aspects to the sport, for Hudson, rugby’s most important aspect is the off-field camaraderie.
“The reason that it differs from any sport out there is because immediately following a match, no matter who it’s against, both teams get together and go out where everyone is best friends,” Hudson described. “Since it’s not that popular of a sport in the U.S., there is a huge underground community; we are a family. Really, that’s a pretty global thing as well.”
The rugby aficionado and youth counselor also feels that the sport can be very beneficial for the youth of today.
“This is a good thing; it gives the kids a lot of confidence and respect (for authority). The biggest problem with kids today is that they are lazy, and that doesn’t mesh well with rugby,” Hudson stated. “There are a lot of values that are engrained into the game. One that is most important is a respect for authority. In rugby there is only one referee who is commanding 30 players, and you are not allowed to talk to him unless you’re the captain. If you back-talk him you will get kicked out of the game, and your team has to play a man down. You have to learn to control your emotions.”
Hudson is such a firm believer of the positive impact that rugby can have on adolescents that he is working on starting up a program for at-risk kids.
“We’re building this into a character development program and getting some ideas of what services Bradley County needs,” Hudson said. “It’s different for each individual. Some are hyper-competitive, while some value the social component. For a lot of these kids, playing rugby is just going to make them better. That’s the goal: if it can mean something to somebody, I would rather have that then a state championship any day.”
Anyone interested in getting involved with Hudson’s youth rugby initiative may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.