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A native of New Zealand, where children are raised with rugby balls and burn youthful energy on the local pitch, Hall graduated from playing rugby to teaching and coaching it. That’s what brought the Clemson University rugby coach to Turner Park as a partner in the “Try Rugby Camp” held May 1.
“Wherever I’ve gone, grassroots rugby has been a passion of mine. I think creating more opportunities like this is clearly what the game needs. With Clemson and some established high school programs in the area it’s great to get 70 plus pre-high school kids out here playing rugby and having a good experience with it,” Hall said. “A lot of these kids haven’t played before, but when you hear the laughs and see the smiles you know it’s a fun event.”
That joy motivates Hall and the other coaches who shared the fundamentals of the sport with approximately 75 boys and girls aged 6-18 during the Greer camp. Hall and several Clemson players were joined by representatives from the Greenville Griffins Rugby Club and the South Greenville Rugby Club.
Saturday’s no-contact camp was an opportunity to introduce a new audience to the basics of rugby: running, kicking and team skills through a variety of fun exercises. Youth players are introduced to flag rugby and work their way up to game contact.
“I think part of my role as a coach at Clemson is to get out into the community and run camps and clinics to develop more opportunities, not just here in Greer but also at our home field in Clemson. I genuinely enjoy watching a kid touch the ball for the first time and doing it with a smile on his face,” Hall said. “It’s normal to grow up playing rugby in New Zealand, so the more kids here at six or seven years old we can get touching the ball and having a good experience, the better.”
Rugby has been a part of recreation in the Upstate since Greenville Rugby was founded in 1969, but opportunities for young players has trailed sports such as baseball, football, basketball and soccer. With statistics now indicating that rugby is the fastest-growing team sport in the United States, Hall and other rugby coaches feel they are making progress in securing the future of the sport.
“There’s been a lot of work put in. It’s a big challenge to grow the sport in such a massive country, but events like today’s camp are where we need the help. We have more than 20 coaches helping at this camp. You’ve got to find good people to get involved. I go into schools and PE classes to teach about rugby. I think it’s an amazing sport to be involved in,” Hall said.
“We still have a long way to go, but I think we, at the university level, can create a program where players really want to come and then bring more awareness to the local communities. It’s giving young people a good experience and making it so parents want to hear more about it. Today’s camp is a really good start. We talked about it for a few months and it’s really great to see it happen.”
In addition to coaching stints at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Oregon State University, Hall has been an ambassador for the sport through youth development over the past decade. The journey brought him cross country to Clemson in 2020 and his work with the Clemson Rugby Foundation allows him to continue bringing the game to young people.
That’s a question Hall has no trouble answering.
“I always like to talk about the why behind rugby. It’s inclusivity – all shapes and sizes, all ages, boys and girls. And it isn’t a sport that you have to give up after high school. You can play well into your 40s.” he said. “Everyone touches the ball, everyone does the skills and it’s fast paced. Last but not least is the culture behind the sport. It’s being a good teammate, getting to know the opposition and getting together at a social after the game. No matter if you’re playing grassroots or international rugby you don’t miss out on that.
“It’s an atmosphere of respect,” he added.” There’s a saying that better people make better rugby players and I believe that’s true. What we want to do is inspire kids to get involved in the game and for parents to support that, as well.”
The City of Greer will be hosting rugby games at Turner Park on May 15, 22 and 23 as well as June 5. Another youth camp is planned on a date to be announced.