Hundreds of athletes and fans converged at Black River Fields in Chester on Saturday. The complex was the scene of an old world sport that has become more and more popular in America in recent years. The weather was hot and so was the action on the playing fields.
All involved came to see and participate in the football games but not the kind of football America is familiar with. This style of football is better known as Rugby. The 12th Annual American Flag Rugby Youth Festival sponsored by the Morris Rugby Corporation was behind this event. Since its founding in the 1990's the festival has grown in size and popularity.
Coed rugby teams from the tri-state area compete against each other during a 6-week period beginning in June every year and culminating with the final day of the youth rugby season known as the American Flag Rugby Youth Festival.
Morris Rugby sponsored teams such as the Denville Dawgs, Montville Wanderers, Long Valley Wolfpack, Parsippany Panthers, Black River Renegades, Byram Bruins, Mine Hill Tigers and the newest clubs Tri- Town Mountaineers and the Ridgewood Rays were among the teams that participated in the many games played on Saturday.
The Morris teams took on visiting teams that included the Union County Mud Turtle Rugby Club, Westfield Blue Devils, Cranford & Berkley Heights Rugby Club, Jersey City Rugby Club and Doylestown Pennsylvania Rugby Club among others. The teams featured this year came from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
The teams involve players or "ruggers" from age 5-15. There are several different levels of ruggers according to their age and skill. The categories of ruggers is owls, falcons, hawks and Eagles. Eagles are the highest level in youth rugby and unlike the lower levels involve full contact tackling. Unlike American football, rugby players do not wear pads but do use mouth guards.
The younger children only are allowed to grab the flag or strip of cloth from their opponents uniform. A full contact exhibition game was put on by the best experienced eagles from several Morris teams. Modern day rugby has evolved from its roots in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and some form of the game reach back even further in time to England and other parts of the world.
Huge mobs would get involved in games that involved kicking and throwing an inflated pig bladder through the streets. Villages would take each other on and any means short of murder would be used to get the ball across the goal. These were fun but rowdy affairs that the ruling authorities and monarchs looked down on with disdain. The violence and property damage did not bother the powers that be, but the games were considered time wasting.
Those in authority tried to ban and outlaw rugby (known as football in those days) many times but the people always managed to continue playing it in one form or another.
The game of rugby has changed and become much refined since those ancient times. Today it is widely played throughout the world even though it is still trying to find traction in the United States. In recent years coverage of rugby games on television has increased as has sponsorships from corporations for youth and adult rugby programs. The sport of rugby is slated to be featured at the 2016 Olympics.
No official scores were kept and no awards were passed out on Saturday. The rugby players and the many volunteers just played for the love of the game. The games lasted from 9 a.m. to about 2 p.m.
"The games encourage teamwork, physical fitness and increase skill levels and the kids can have fun all at the same time," Morris Rugby Corp. Public Relations Representative K.J. Feury explained.
There were healthy snacks and beverages provided for the ruggers and spectators and local businesses provided sponsorships to the teams that participated.
For those interested in more information about rugby and how to get a child involved in a team or make a donation may visit the Morris Rugby Corp. website at www.morrisrugby.org or email K.J. Feury at firstname.lastname@example.org