Rugby: Elgin River Rats growing in numbersDylan Federighi, a junior at South Elgin High School, tries to pass the ball as he hits the ground during the River Rats rugby practice in Elgin Friday. April 20, 2012. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 25, 2012 10:20PM
The number of rats at Abbott Field on the city’s west side has tripled since last spring. And that’s not a bad thing.
For these are members of the Elgin River Rats, the club level rugby team for high school players.
“We started with nine guys last year and now we have approximately 27 players,” coach Rob Copland said.
Freshman newbies Josh Menendez of South Elgin and John Vargas of Streamwood said they enjoy the speed of the game, the teamwork and leadership skills rugby builds.
Sophomore Jin Park of South Elgin, an exchange student from South Korea, has played for two years while studying in Australia, while team captain and sophomore Riley Treadwell found the Elgin program more affordable and to offer more opportunity to play than the club team in St. Charles, where he lives.
The current effort all started in large part because of Rob Peterson, now a senior and an outfielder on Larkin’s baseball team. Peterson said his neighbor, St. Edward alum Web Eby, told him stories about playing the game on an Elgin club team from 2002-04, which led Peterson to recruit guys he thought might be interested in taking up the precursor of football in 2011.
“Last year, we picked up our first win in a tournament in Sycamore. That’s pretty good for a new team. And Rob is going to be playing on an all-star team from Illinois that’s going to the United Kingdom this summer,” Copland said.
Last summer, the team played in a handful of tournaments in a version of the game called Rugby Sevens, which features seven players on each side. That version will be part of the London Olympics this year.
“We did not win, but gained more experience. In fall we played five very close matches playing 10 aside, and won two, scoring over 50 points in those wins. We also lost a heartbreaker by three points,” Copland said.
The team is 3-0 in league play. The team has six regular season games, and it took two of three preseason matches. It plays in the Illinois Youth Rugby Association Tier 3 North Conference, which is set up for developing teams.
The Rats practice Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 4:30-6:30 at Abbott Field, and the team has eight coaches.
Copland is an Elgin police officer who plays rugby for the Chicago Blue Law Enforcement Rugby Football Club. His assistants include Dale Lonis who is CEO of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, John Shepard, Steve Treadwell, Loren Harris, Elgin city councilman John Steffen, English expat Kellen Smith, Dan Kenny, and Mike Rosenfeld, a good many of whom played on a prior incarnation of an Elgin-based rugby club for adults.
Associate coach Chuck Riley, who founded the Elgin RFC in 1979, is a retired investigator for the FDA and took up the game in his mid-30s while living in Montana in the 1970s.
Players come from Elgin, South Elgin, Streamwood, St. Charles and Schaumburg. And players and coaches keep in touch and share pointers through Facebook.
“Facebook is a great communication tool to put out practice, game, and team info. The players do check it regularly. We also have a ‘coaches only’ page where coaches discuss players, practices and such. We have also branched out to text players info,” Copland said.
And Copland said that next fall, the hope is to start a similar program for middle school students in Elgin.