Local rugby club produces star players, strong characters

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 25, 2014 

Five years ago, Shawn Burns stood on the sideline and watched his son, Jake Burns, run around a pitch trying to learn how to play rugby with 29 other budding athletes. Now he has the luxury of watching Jake play on the finest rugby U16 club in the state of Washington, the Chuckanut Bay Steamers.

On Sunday May 18, the Steamers claimed the Washington state title at the Ferndale Polo Grounds with a 75-7 win over Liberty.

Chuckanut Bay's rugby club benefits from being near the border, as it gets to play in leagues in both Canada and Washington.

"I feel like we're at a prime location," Jake Burns said in a phone interview. "We get twice the amount of rugby as kids in Canada and the United States. We get more repetition and more practice."

That time has paid off, as Jake and three of his teammates recently got selected to the Washington State Loggers elite rugby squad, a team that is highly recruited by college coaches.

But what makes Jake and his fellow teammates so passionate about rugby?

"You learn a lot from it," he said. "It's almost like a brotherhood for my team."

Jake originally played football - he still does - but after his dad took him to a couple rugby practices at the request of his football coach, he fell in love. He now calls rugby his top priority.

"I liked that everyone got a chance to shine," he said. "I played with all my friends from football and everyone, even if they were a lineman or a running back on the football team, still got the ball playing rugby."

That excitement and the flow of the game progressed, as the younger kids learned the rules and started playing with each other.

Unlike football, which has stoppages in play every 15 seconds, rugby teaches kids how to think quick on their feet.

"Rugby is 30 minutes at a time; you have to keep going," Shawn said. "They have to decide at a moment's notice, depending on the situation, what they should do. I think it's understated how it teaches kids to think for themselves and make decisions."

Shawn also believes that despite its rough exterior, rugby has many traditions that build strong sportsmanship ideals in young players.

"Soccer is a gentleman's game played by hooligans and rugby is a hooligan's game palyed by gentlemen," Jake said. "There's never been a sport like rugby that's showed me to put others before yourself."

But the foundation and the culture of rugby starts with the coaches, and Jake said Chuckanut Bay's dedicated coaches and volunteers make all the difference. In fact, he credits them with making him stick with rugby.

"As a student of game, you always want to go to the next level," Jake Burns said. "So my ultimate goal is to be able to further my rugby career and we'll see where it goes."

With rugby scheduled to be included in the 2016 Summer Olympics, there's no telling how high the ceiling is for some of these players. Chuckanut Bay already has produced three national players - Titi Lamositele, Shawn Pittman and Nick Wallace.

Reach Joshua Hart at joshua.hart@bellinghamherald.com or by phone at 360-756-2851.

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