Schenectady County

Team whupped, but it’s a start

Things were looking up for the Schenectady Chargers during the youth rugby team’s inaugural scrim

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Things were looking up for the Schenectady Chargers during the youth rugby team’s inaugural scrimmage last week.

Even though many of the two dozen players were just starting to learn the sport, they managed to hold the much larger and more experienced players of the Saratoga Mustangs to the halfway line at UAlbany’s rugby field. Of course, that was until the second half started.

“We only had one person leave in an ambulance,” remarked Aleks Litynski, 16, who was among those who played in the match. “And that was reassuring.”

The game marked the first time the Chargers took the field in any organized manner. After practicing through late March and early April, the Schenectady-area’s first youth rugby team got a feeling for how the sport is played.

And they got stomped. Badly.

“I got drilled,” recalled Kevin Warren, 15, while at practice Wednesday in Scotia’s Collins Park. “I was picked up, moved out, and dropped.”

But the crew of high school athletes seemed undaunted by the drubbing during their practice Wednesday. They seemed ready for more.

The league was started last year by a group of adult rugby fanatics who wanted to give adolescents an experience many only pick up during the college years. In their first season, they picked up more than 100 high school players to field three boys’ teams and two girls’ teams.

This year, organizers have added a Schenectady team to compete with established squads in Saratoga and Albany. The goal is to teach the young players the intensity and restraint — the sportsmanship and camaraderie — needed to succeed at a sport often referred to as “the hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.”

“We got together and decided we’d like to see players start at a younger age than in college,” said Rob Sliwinski, a veteran rugby player of more than three decades and one of the new league’s founders.

With the addition of the Chargers, the league now includes about 190 players, including a boys squad based in Rensselaer County and a combined Albany-Schenectady girls team. Sliwinski said the hope is to grow the Capital Region league enough to eventually challenge more established teams around upstate New York and New England.

“There is a lot of interest out there,” he said.

Sliwinski said the league accepts players of all athletic abilities and doesn’t discriminate when it comes to getting them playing time. He said it’s a team effort and never relies on the abilities of one player.

“Everybody plays,” he said. “Nobody sits out.”

Some of the Schenectady players admitted their parents had a few concerns with them taking up a sport with a reputation of being overtly physical.

“She thought I was going to die,” confessed 14-year-old Cameron Cummings of Schenectady.

Sliwinski said the sport is actually no more dangerous than ice hockey, and less injury prone than football. And those sports require a bit more of an equipment investment than rugby, which requires little more than a pair of cleats, a mouth guard and an intensity to win.

The combination of strength, speed and physicality was enough to attract Warren, who had previously considered himself more of a football player. Instead, he found himself sold on rugby after experiencing the frenzy of his first scrum.

Now, Warren wants to be on the field when the Chargers have their rematch against Saratoga. Only the next time, he wants to win.

“We’ll be a force to be reckoned with one day,” he predicted.

The Capital District Youth Rugby League is continuing to accept players for the 2008 season, which runs until early June. Interested players can visit the league’s Web site ate www.cdyouthrugby.org, or contact Sliwinski at 381-4049.

Categories: Schenectady County

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