The new format for the three USA Rugby High School National Championships takes some getting used to.
The three tournaments – Boys Single-School, Boys High School Club, Girls High School Club – were switched to an invitational format, whereby teams applied to be considered, and then received invitations.
The invitations went out March 1, and all of those teams are expected to provide a $1,500 deposit, which they receive back when they arrive at the championship event.
Certainly some leagues and teams around the country don’t like the new format. Critics say it’s not a true championship. Others are unhappy about being excluded, or wonder why other teams didn’t make the cut.
RUGBYMag.com is right in the middle of this. RUGBYMag.com Editor-in-Chief Alex Goff was asked to sit on the NHSC Invitational Committee, and did indeed serve, helping other committee members when needed, providing research, and working closely in developing the invitation list for the Boys High School Club division.
After the invitations went out, we sat down with USA Rugby’s head of Youth and High School, Kurt Weaver, to discuss the new format.
RUGBYMag: How did you feel about the work the committee did and the process?
Weaver: I was really impressed. I was impressed with the thoroughness of their preparation and how hard everyone worked to find the best teams. They did their best to come up with the right lists of teams.
RUGBYMag: Our own experience was that, for the most part, it was an apolitical group.
Weaver: Yes, it was. There was no regional bias or anything like that. People were there for the good of the game, and it was obvious to see.
RUGBYMag: That doesn’t mean there wasn’t disagreement, right?
Weaver: There was certainly some disagreement and, shall we say, deep discussion. The divisions came down to the last place and there were discussions about those. But again, it was open and honest and the committee was working to get the best teams.
RUGBYMag: Some might say you didn’t get the best teams – they might see that Highland isn’t in the High School Club Boys division, or Jesuit isn’t in the High School single-school division for boys, or Summit isn’t there on the girls side.
Weaver: Well thanks to the research members were doing we learned in the fall that Highland had changed its name to TRYBE, and has essentially the same coaches, organization, and players, with a few obvious exceptions. So TRYBE did get an invitation. I fully understand that people see Jesuit and Summit are not there, but they didn’t apply. Both programs have very good personal reasons for not applying, and that’s partly what makes this format, in my opinion, a good one. We know early on that a team won’t be able to make it. Jesuit will still have a meaningful season, and we won’t be wondering at the last minute who comes out of the Pacific Coast.
RUGBYMag.com: In fact, Jesuit is not allowed to apply because of an off-field incident with the team which forced the school to step in, and Summit plays only in the fall.
Weaver: Another program might say they can’t come because of finals or finances. They are all legitimate reasons. Every year teams look at the expense of spending $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 on one weekend of rugby and have to decide if that’s what they want to do.
RUGBYMag.com: Some very good teams didn’t get invited, for example Belmont Shore on the boys side and Mother Lode on the girls side.
Weaver: As I said, the committee worked really hard and did their research to find the best teams. They looked at the level of competition in a region, and whether the team was competitive last year, and looked to be competitive this year. All of the teams that weren’t invited should re-apply, and they will be considered.
RUGBYMag.com: Speaking from the experience of organizing a trip to the national championships when you have only two weeks to plan, it can get expensive quickly, and favorable hotel rooms, van rentals, everything, can be snapped up. Being able to plan far in advance makes the entire process easier.
Weaver: We had one team tell us that they are looking into dorm space on a college campus, something that takes a long time to organize but something they can do now.
RUGBYMag.com: How will the deposit of $1,500 be handled?
Weaver: The teams will get that deposit back when they arrive at the event. It will possibly be in a form so they can use it right then, because clubs are always in need of cash on a trip like that. If a team does not show, then they forfeit that $1,500, and that money would go toward helping with the expenses of the replacement team.
RUGBYMag.com: Some would say an invitational is not a true national championship.
Weaver: They’d be right, but this is the best option for teams. It doesn’t end the season early for leagues. All it does, now, is interrupt the season for a weekend. If you are in an area where you want to play well into June, you can do that and still have a team from your area go to the National Invitational.
This may not be what some people like, but it’s the best solution we have today. USA Rugby as an organization loves national play, but we also want to foster growth. We think this format supports both.
RUGBYMag.com: There’s been talk in the Committee about adding a 2nd Tier in 2013, so making the decisions on those top eight would be easier. Do you foresee any other changes?
Weaver: There could be many changes. We could make the tournament earlier, or later, such as in June. We welcome feedback.
RUGBYMag.com: The Committee was made of up members of the press, age-grade national team coaches, and coaches from around the country, and chaired by Mike Tolkin. Most, if not all, of the coaches involved have a team that received an invitation. Any independent observer would look at the record of those teams and understand there wasn’t really any room for debate. But, still, do you think the makeup of the Committee will change?
Weaver: We welcome fresh blood, and I think we do have some questions to answer regarding what the Committee will look like going forward. If anyone is interested in being a part of it, they should contact me at