PHILADELPHIA, Pa., June 14, 2018 — Six weeks into its existence, Philadelphia's first charter high school rugby program made its debut last weekend at the National High School Rugby Championships, posting an impressive 3-3 record.
The Bulldogs Rugby Club is composed of 34 students from Simon Gratz Mastery Charter High School in the Nicetown neighborhood of North Philadelphia. Mastery Charter Schools are a system of 23 independently managed primary, middle and secondary schools in Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. Mastery schools use innovative and customized techniques to improve struggling and challenged public schools in the Philadelphia area.
Gratz students organized the club in April under the guidance of Nick Hunter, the school's strength and conditioning coach and an avid rugby player. They practiced twice weekly in preparation for the three-day tournament, which began at the Greater Chester Valley Soccer Association Complex in Malvern, Pa., on Friday and moved to Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa., for Saturday and Sunday. Teams spent months training and traveled from across the country to compete in the tournament. Gratz was able to attend because of its proximity to the event.
The Bulldogs defeated the Blackthorn club from Horsham, Pa., in its first match, followed by the Unionville (Pa.) Indians, and accepted a forfeit from the West Carroll (Md.) Marauders. They played well in losses to last year's finalists Rock Rugby Academy from Texas, the 2x New Jersey State Champions St. Augustine Hermits and 2016 Pennsylvania State Champions Media Wolfpack.
Club members spent down time between matches at the tournament helping run an introductory rugby program for youth called Rookie Rugby. Volunteerism, community uplift and being strong role models for younger students are at the heart of the Bulldogs’ ethos, who have chosen as their club’s mission "to promote positivity among youth in our community through rugby."
The club remains student-driven behind leadership from senior captain Zach Barnett. It receives uncommon support from school principal Mr. Peter Langer as well as the blessing and cooperation of its athletic department and athletic director, Mr. Erik Zipay. Follow the Bulldogs through Instagram as we develop and expand into other rugby competitions in 2019: @gratz_rugby_club.