New Summit boy’s rugby team shows heart in first home loss to Palmer, 0-74
Summit vs. Palmer
Score 1st 2nd Final
Summit 0 0 0
Palmer 34 40 74
A call for rugby players
The Summit boy’s rugby team is still looking for players to fill out the line. At Saturday’s game against Palmer, the team had just two substitutes. If you’re interested, stop by Kingdom Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. for practice. Cleats and a mouth guard are required, with all other practice equipment provided by the team.
BRECKENRIDGE — After losing by 74 at home, you’d expect the Summit boy’s rugby team to silently huddle with heads hung and hearts heavy.
But that’s not how this brand-new team operates. On Saturday afternoon, just as snow started falling on the Kingdom Park rugby pitch in Breckenridge, the small-yet-scrappy Summit squad gathered around British head coach Peter Clarke and started laughing. And smiling. And congratulating. And, occasionally, grimacing with the sort of pain that hits after an adrenaline rush of a game.
“You guys have been playing for two weeks and those guys have been playing for years and years,” Clarke told his crew of just 17 players, most of who had never touched a rugby ball before this spring. “They won the battle over our bodies but we won the battle over our minds.”
A few more words from Clarke, a rugby veteran with decades of experience playing across the world, and then one of his assistants held up a jersey from his native New Zealand. Each of the six coaches comes from a rugby-playing nation, which means the boys are in good hands. The coach explained that the jersey, dubbed the “Kiwi jersey,” will go to a new standout player with every match. This time, it was Tigers football veteran Adolpho Vasquez III, one of the few Summit players who already seemed at home on the pitch, taking the throw on line-outs before weaving in and out of the much larger and much faster Palmer line.
“It’s tough (to play a new sport), but that’s why they always say there’s something new to learn,” Vasquez said after leaving the huddle, the Kiwi jersey on the sideline next to his traditional long-sleeved game jersey in shades of black and forest. “I love that challenge, and with a sport like this it doesn’t matter how you’re doing with the score. You put your heart into it and that matters.”
To be brutally honest, it’s odd to see a score like that in print around here: Summit rugby 0, Palmer rugby 74. After 15 years of girl’s dominance on the pitch, Summit fans are more familiar with a flip-flopped score, plus an extra 30 points tacked on top. The girl’s and boy’s teams technically play club rugby, not varsity high school ball, and so the matchups for both look similar: Palmer, Westside and other clubs, some affiliated with high school, some not, all with at least two or three years of experience in the club scene.
“Someone had to lay a foundation and we know we won’t compete against those bigger Denver teams right now,” said Bobby Craig, the Breckenridge architect and benefactor behind the boy’s team. “But two years from now? It will happen.”
Road to a dynasty
Truth is, Karl Barth’s defending state champions have been playing this game much, much longer than their male counterparts, and right now that makes all the difference. Most of the girls on the latest championship team have been with Barth since middle school, and so they have the incredible benefit of a winning tradition. Call it a dynasty mentality: You can see it in the way they play and hear it in the way they talk.
“It’s all about the culture of what we do here,” senior girl’s superstar Meg Rose told me after the team’s dominant 64-7 win over Chaparral on Nov. 10. “We stress the family thing. Going to practice isn’t something you hate doing. You want to go there at the end of the day.”
The boy’s would love to complement the girl’s team with a program that’s just as dominant — you can hear shades of Rose’s unconditional love in the way Vasquez and his teammates talk — but that won’t make the next two years (or remainder of this season) any easier.
“This is a brand-new program and we know it,” Clarke said. “In the next few weeks we will lose lots of games. But if you heard the guys at the end they aren’t giving up. They’re sticking together and they want to improve.”
Clarke’s take on rugby (and high school sports) is refreshing: realistic yet optimistic, with a clear understanding that his team must go a long way before they start winning. At times during the game, he and the assistants asked the referee to explain options and rules to the players.
“They’re just learning,” one of them said on a stoppage, and the ref obliged.
But it’s not as though Clarke is starting with the rugby version of Walter Mattheau’s Bad News Bears. A few of the Summit players have a background in physical sports, football players like Vasquez, while others have always wanted to be part of a winning rugby culture, like senior captain Thomas Kalina.
“I really want everyone to experience their own passion for this, find whatever pleases them,” said Kalina, who admits he’s “dreamed” of playing rugby for Summit since freshman year. “I’d love to help them find their story with rugby.”
Kalina has yet to play a game — he injured his knee skiing before the team’s season opening loss against Castel Rock — but he’s itching to join the scrum.
He’ll get his chance soon enough. The Summit boy’s team plays at Ridge View on March 19. He and Clarke don’t expect a win, but they expect to get smarter and tougher and better at the game — the start of a winning tradition.
“Rugby is the best sport to play,” Clarke said. “It’s not only the best sport — it’s about respect for opposition. Rugby is very traditionally strong on respect for the referees, the other player. It’s about developing better people, not just better players.”
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