The Coastal Dragons Youth Rugby Club is Developing Young Athletes
Get in the Scrum!
For the last century, rugby has taken a back seat to American football in the US. But recently, the tough and tumble sport has seen a resurgence, especially with young players. Here in 92024, the Coastal Dragons Youth Rugby Football Club provides athletes with the skills and development to build strong bonds and strong bodies. Whether you follow your favorite international club or know nothing about the sport, read along as we talk with Coastal Dragons Board President Ed Petersen about how to get involved in the fast and exciting game of rugby.
Q&A with Ed Petersen
What is the history behind Coastal Dragons Rugby?
The Coastal Dragons was established in 2009 by eight enterprising ruggers who wanted a local team in Encinitas. Matt Hawkins [current head coach for the USA Men’s Olympic Rugby team] had recently welcomed his first son into the world and wanted his children to play rugby, so with the help of his father Glen Hawkins, Ramón Samaniego, Graydon Orr, Erik Loberg, Michael Maister, Ian Smith and Chris Connolly they formed the Coastal Dragons Youth Rugby Football Club. Many of these fathers have sons that had played rugby in Carmel Valley with the Mustangs rugby club, and they all agree the Dragons would never have been established without the support and encouragement of the leadership of the Mustangs. The first practice was held at Moonlight Beach in November 2009, and was attended by thirty youngsters eager to try the new sport. The word spread quickly, and that year the Dragons registered over fifty players. Today the club has grown to over 240 players per year registering to play rugby as U8, U10 and U12 Co-ed, and U14, U16, U18 boys.
Briefly describe the game of rugby.
Rugby is a game where every player gets to run with the ball, everyone gets tackled, and gets to tackle, and anyone can score. Rugby players run similar distance to soccer players so it is truly a great cardiovascular workout. It is an egalitarian sport with no player on the field being more important than the other. Similar to basketball there is no goalie, and you transition between offense and defense fluidly with no stoppage in play. You advance up the field by running forward with the ball, but you may only pass backwards. You play without pads or helmets, which counter-intuitively reduces the number of injuries. We get more bumps and bruises, but self-preservation means you cannot slam your body into an opponent which reduces the number of broken bones and blown out knees associated with other sports.
The game of rugby is governed by the International Rugby Board (IRB) at www.irb.com. Currently there are 119 countries that are members of the IRB making it truly one of the most global games in the world. The Rugby World Cup is held every four years and is the third largest global sporting event after World Cup Soccer and the Olympics. American Football was derived from rugby, and there are deep roots in American rugby. The last time rugby was featured in the Olympics was 1924 and the USA won gold!
The IRB governs two versions of the game: fifteen a-side, and seven a-side rugby. Played in winter, 15’s pits fifteen players against fifteen players over two halves of forty minutes each. As the name implies, 7’s pits seven against seven, for two halves of seven minutes each. Typically players would play four to six games a day.
Is rugby geared for a certain gender/age group?
Rugby is played by both men and women. In the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, men and women will compete for gold. Yes, it is true more boys and men play rugby than their female counterparts, but the same can be said for soccer twenty years ago. At the Coastal Dragons we have co-ed rugby for U8/U10 /U12 players, but currently we only field boys’ teams at the U14, U16 and U18 age group.
Describe the basics of the typical season.
There are two distinct seasons catering to two different forms of the game. Rugby 7’s is the version played in the Olympics and is what we are gearing up for this summer. It is a shorter version of the game, played on a full-size soccer field with seven players a side, competing in two seven-minute halves. Typically teams play four to six games on a Saturday in a tournament style event. The season starts late May and runs through the end of July. Registration is currently open at www.coastaldragonsrugby.com. Amazingly this year we will have Matt Hawkins, former captain of Team USA, the most capped player in 7’s history, and current head coach for the USA Olympic Rugby team, and his support team, coaching the student athletes at the Coastal Dragons.
Where are games played, and who do the Coastal Dragons match up against?
San Diego has a robust and well established league for all ages. All games are played around San Diego County, with San Clemente and Temecula being the farthest anyone needs to travel. Our rivals include the Wallabies from Coronado, the Aztecs from Ocean Beach, the Warriors from Mira Mesa, the Mustangs from Carmel Valley, the Spartans from Poway, the Barbarians from North County, the Avengers from Valley Center, the Mountain Lions from Temecula, the Gators from San Clemente, the Hurricanes from Oceanside and the Thunder from Carlsbad. Home games typically are held at Cardiff Sport Park, Ada Harris, or Capri Elementary. The City of Encinitas and the Encinitas School District have been wonderful supporters of the growth of rugby in Encinitas.
How are teams formed so they are sure to be competitive with one another?
San Diego boasts one of the most competitive youth rugby leagues in the country. The weather, the large number of ex-pats from traditional rugby playing nations, and the fact that the USA Rugby 7’s headquarters is based at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista makes San Diego a hot bed for rugby. With rugby being re-introduced into the Olympics, we are experiencing an incredible growth in the sport. Competitiveness between clubs is at an all-time high, which is great for all involved.
What is your role with Coastal Dragons Rugby? How did you get so involved with the club?
I have two sons, Justin (14) and Bradley (12), whom have played in every season since the inception of the club. I attended the very first practice held at Moonlight Beach back in November 2009. I played rugby growing up in South Africa and the club needed coaches so I jumped in and have been coaching ever since. There are two rugby seasons a year, so this coming summer will be the tenth season I have coached at the Coastal Dragons. I have been on the Board as field coordinator, director of coaching and was president of the club in the 2011/2012 season, and will again be the president for 2014/2015.
What is your number one goal for the athletes involved with Coastal Dragons Rugby?
The club’s tag line is “Teaching Children to Love Rugby”. If we do that, we have succeeded. Rugby is a game you can play into your 60s and beyond. I still play rugby today in my mid 40s and will be going on a rugby tour to Argentina with fifty other gentlemen over the age of 40. Our oldest active competitor is 72. If we can teach the players and the parents to love the game and the culture or rugby the rest will take care of itself.
What is the most rewarding part of being involved with the club? Most challenging?
It is hard to articulate all that I get from rugby and the Coastal Dragons. I get so much joy each season introducing new families to the sport. Mothers are so apprehensive when they hear “its like football but without pads”. It takes a game or two for them to realize that it is different, that their child not only survived but had the time of their life. I love seeing football linemen run with the ball and score try’s. I love hearing from football coaches that they have seen an improvement in the toughness and conditioning of athletes who gave rugby a try. I love hearing from parents who realize that there is a worldwide culture and ethos with rugby that is unique. For example, we always feed our opposition after a home game, and they feed us when we go to them. Sitting and having a meal with the people you just competed with happens at the highest level of the game. On the professional circuit that takes place in nine different counties each year. The sixteen competing nations all eat together in one large dining hall. The only real challenge is sometimes work gets in the way of rugby!
If you could grant the club one wish, what would it be?
I will admit I do have a recurring dream that involves me winning the lottery and building a dedicated rugby facility with ample fields, facilities and equipment in Encinitas. The City of Encinitas has been a wonderful ally and has supported the Dragons from day one, but quality playing surfaces for our kids have always been in short supply. The new Encinitas Community Park will help and I am very grateful that my children will have a chance to play in this brand new facility. And secondly, I dream that we will have a Coastal Dragon player represent the USA in the Olympic Games.
Your coaching staff is a coveted aspect of the club. Please tell us about the coaching credentials within the club, and why the staff is so impressive.
We are so privileged in Encinitas to have the dedicated rugby loving parents and coaches who volunteer their time so generously. Each age group is required to have at least one coach with USA Level 1 Coaching accreditation. All coaches are required to complete the Positive Coaching Alliance course, and do a comprehensive course on first aid and concussion awareness. The most important factor is that one of our founding members is Matt Hawkins. Matt represented the USA on more occasions than any player in the history of 7’s in this country, captained the side for many years, and recently became the head coach. Matt is extremely busy, but he always takes my calls and does everything in his power to assist the Coastal Dragons. Current and former USA Eagle players frequently assist our coaches, which raises the standard of coaching. Justin Boyd, who represented the USA at both 15’s and 7’s rugby, was an assistant coach for the U16 all season. This is a labor of love by all coaches to help grow the game, and we could not do it without them.
Please tell us about your founding members. How have they left their mark for seasons to come?
We cannot thank our founding members enough! They had the vision that once the children of Encinitas tried rugby they would fall in love with it. Running a nonprofit organization based exclusively on volunteers is no small task, but these guys pulled it off.
Chris Connolly and Mike Maister, have coached from the very beginning and recently just finished the U14 season. Ian Smith still has a son that plays at the Dragons and is an active supporter always willing to step in and help at a moment’s notice. Graydon Orr moved north to Carlsbad and helped form the Carlsbad Thunder Rugby Club, and actively supports youth rugby by refereeing each weekend. Matt Hawkins holds the top post in rugby in the country as men’s coach for the USA 7’s team, Glen Hawkins spends his time trying to keep up with his two grandchildren who have started rugby, and Ramon Samaniego is still very involved coaching his son who plays at the Mustangs.
What sets Coastal Dragons Rugby apart from other rugby clubs?
The funny thing about rugby is while we all try our best to beat the opposition, we truly go out of our way to support each other. It is not uncommon for all the competing coaches to socialize together or to play with or against our opposition coaches in Old Boys rugby matches. We all realize that even though rugby is the fastest growing team sport in the county, it is still in its infancy so we need all clubs to be healthy for the sport to grow. I think the Coastal Dragons has an advantage over other clubs thanks to the wonderful support we get from the City of Encinitas and the Encinitas Unified School District. We even have a city Council member, Kristin Gaspar with a child playing rugby. I think that’s cool!
Tell us about the Coastal Dragons Rugby philosophy that is instilled in all players.
Our mission statement reads: “To introduce and expand the sport of rugby in the community and establish the traditions of the game based on respect, sportsmanship, honor, courage, discipline, and fair play.”
The Club tag line is “Teaching Children to Love Rugby.” Not only do we teach children a wonderful game, we attempt to teach children, parents and volunteers, the culture of rugby.
How do you receive the necessary funding to keep the club running?
We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization so we only charge registration dues at a level required to keep the club healthy. Expensive equipment is not required by players, and the only compulsory item is a mouth guard and soccer cleats. We have never turned a player away because they cannot afford the dues. We actively raise money from local sponsors to help fund those children who cannot afford it. The club is always seeking additional financial support because it costs money to run a quality organization.
Do you have any sponsors? If so, who are they, and how do they assist?
A local Encinitas resident, John Reynolds, is a rugby fanatic and has sponsored the club every year since its inception through his company Jon Renau. The other sponsors include:
Easi Hair Pro
Beachside Bar and Grill
Oscar’s Meat Pie Shack
Maister Landscape and Construction
Connolly Law Office
Kiwi Audi and Visual
Skoy Enterprises LLC
Please tell us about the volunteers that help make up your successful club.
Trying to list all the people that have contributed to the club would be impossible, but there are a few unsung heroes that I don’t know what we would do without. Ken Baier has marked the fields like a professional for four years now. He also pulls the equipment trailer to games and helps with setting up the rugby posts and getting the fields ready. Teresa Roenker has been a massive help to the Board in collecting all the required documents to register players. Rachelle and Brady Stigall, Kim Duvall, Stacy Trickey and so many more have been Dragons for many years and have contributed countless hours to making the club a success.
If someone wanted to volunteer their time, how would they go about signing up?
The best way is to email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to a coach or a board member. The website www.coastaldragonsrugby.com also has a volunteer page. If you know a little about rugby we are always looking for help with coaching. If you would like to see rugby grow in America please consider giving back, and there is no more valuable contribution than teaching children to love rugby.
Have any players gone on to play college rugby or played in professional leagues? If so, please explain.
Our first year we competed in the U8, U10 and U12 age groups. Those players are now 14, 15 and 16 years old so they are still in high school, but that is not to say we do not have a few rising stars. The San Diego Regional All Star tryouts took place recently and Bryton Dempster and Jake Galloway were selected for the Varsity team, and Owen Duvall, Patrick French, Sean Devins, Sean Lumkong, Kevin Loney and Justin Petersen were selected for the JV team. Bryton Dempster and Owen Duvall have been invited to the Eagles Impact Academy which puts them on the path to be selected to the High School All American team that will compete in Argentina, Portugal and France.
Do any local high schools have rugby in place? Do you see the game becoming a CIF sport in the near future?
La Costa Canyon High School has embraced rugby, and fielded a Varsity and JV team this high school season. The JV team won their league and the Varsity finished runners-up, so both teams will advance to the top league in the upcoming season that starts in October of this year. So many of the football players are realizing that playing rugby makes you a better football player. Team leaders like Jake Galloway and Bryton Dempster are great examples of cross-over athletes that have excelled at both sports. The San Diego Section of the CIF has recognized that there are over thirty-eight high schools with rugby teams, and more are being added each year. With rugby becoming an Olympic sport I have to think it is only a matter of time before it is adopted as a CIF Sport. The Coastal Dragons are actively looking to assist other local high schools who would like to introduce rugby.
Are you hosting any clinics in the summer months?
This will be the most amazing summer 7’s season, because the coaching component will be powered by Serevi Rugby. Matt Hawkins’ other career, when he is not coaching the USA Olympic Rugby Team, is to head Serevi Rugby in California. Serevi Rugby is the nation’s premier Rugby Development organization catering to youth all the way through to players knocking on the door of the national team. It does not get any better than this for an aspiring rugby player who wants to learn the game. To participate you will need to register through www.coastaldragonsrugby.com. The season starts late May and ends late July. Players will have an opportunity to play in the California State Games that take place in San Diego this year.