The North Shore Rugby Club has less than 35 players while drawing from a pool of seven schools: Duluth Marshall, Duluth East, Duluth Denfeld, Cloquet, Esko, Superior and Two Harbors.
Rugby player Charlie Hooghkirk, a senior at Marshall, wants to get more people playing.
Hooghkirk first played rugby in seventh grade. At the time he was homeschooled and bored with playing soccer. A friend suggested he try rugby and he liked it.
Each rugby team plays with 15 people on the field at one time. The object of the game is to score points by getting the ball into the try zone of the opposing team. This can be done by scoring a "try," worth five points, by physically touching the ball to the ground in the zone. You can also score by kicking the ball in between the goal posts, worth three points. After a try is scored, you are allowed to kick a 2-point conversion kick. In rugby, to move the ball you must either run with it or pass it sideways or backward. You are not allowed to pass it forward. The game is continuous, only stopping for injuries or penalties.
Rugby is a club sport at the high school level since it is not sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League, and with that comes some challenges.
"The greatest difficulty as a club is money," said Hooghkirk. The club has to have more fundraising than a sanctioned sport. "(It's) hard to get enough funds because a lot of players cannot afford the dues," Hooghkirk said.
Coach Andrew Imig says that being a club team has benefits as well as challenges. The biggest challenge, he says, is the North Shore Rugby Club doesn't have its own field or transportation to games. The team is using a field in the Billings Park neighborhood of Superior. Players rely on parents to carpool players to games, many of which are in the Twin Cities.
Iming says one benefit of being a club team is flexibility. The team can play where it wants and pull players from a number of schools.
The previously homeschooled Hooghkirk used that flexibility as a way to meet new people.
"One of the reasons I loved rugby so much when I was younger was because of all of the kids I was able to meet," Hooghkirk said. "I liked getting to know all of the older kids and becoming a team. Because of rugby I'm really good friends with people from all over the Twin Ports that I wouldn't have known otherwise."
Max Oosten, a senior at Superior, has been playing on the same team as Hooghkirk for three years.
"Charlie is a phenomenal athlete and more so a leader," Oosten said. "He is arguably the most knowledgeable person on our team and is one of the first people anyone goes to to answer questions about the sport, including me. Charlie is also extremely unselfish; everything he does is for the team and that's something I hope to emulate because of that."
Hooghkirk was a captain for two years on the junior varsity team, and now is a captain for the varsity.
"Rugby has changed me a lot," Hooghkirk said. "It has taught me to be more confident, be more athletic, how to be aggressive, how to work as a team and how to lead a team. Overall, the biggest change that I attribute to rugby has been the confidence."
Next year, Hooghkirk will be attending Vassar College in New York to play rugby. Andrew Imig has been coaching Hooghkirk for the past four years.
"This year has been especially rewarding because it was all about dialing in his technique and watch him grow and excel game after game," Imig said. "We will miss his presence with the North Shore Rugby, but we are all eager to hear about his achievements at Vassar."