By Johnny Smith
The 5th annual Gareth Jones Challenge Cup was held yesterday on the campus of Texas A&M University and was a tremendous success. The tournament included brackets for u19, u19 girls, u19 High Performance, u17 High Performance, u17, u15, u13, u11, and u9 involving 39 teams. In addition to the games, the tournament also included a girl’s clinic run by women’s coach Jim Schriener and the Texas A&M women’s rugby team along with the Rugby Challenger event which provided children with special needs the opportunity to participate in the tournament.
The tournament is run in a festival style format and no bracket champions are crowned. The mission is to provide clubs with a lot of rugby for all members of their club in as many age brackets as possible. One team is named the “Most Honored Club” for the entire tournament based on their play, conduct and overall rugby spirit.
There were several candidates including Brethren Rugby out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Coach Craig Coates (who reffed one of their games) said, “They were 1st class all the way, never complaining and always displaying good sportsmanship.” Also considered were the Panther City RFC Girl’s club, which was actually 3 combined teams from inner city Ft. Worth. Although they had very little experience, they played hard in every game and continually improved. Perennial contender for Most Honored Club is Katy RFC. They had 5 teams entered in various brackets, supplied flags and pads for 2 fields, are unsurpassed in their support of Texas A&M and the tournament and the former club of the tournament namesake, Gareth Jones.
However, this year’s most Honored Club was the Regis School’s u15 team. Regis, long known for only having a touch program, moved on to tackle in this tournament—for the first time. It was a big step for the private school and one they hope to maintain. Regis was determined in their play and fought through 3 very tough (and established) opponents in St. Thomas, The Woodlands and Plano. “They well deserved the honor and really demonstrated what rugby is all about. They took the challenge and met it head on. The first step can be the hardest, and Regis took a big one today,” said Tournament Co-Director Johnny Smith.
The real highlight of the day was the Challenger event held on the main field in the middle of the day. Twenty five children with special needs were paired with a “Rugby Buddy” (Texas A&M Men’s and Women’s players) so they could play rugby. Individual stations included tackling, passing and scoring and all participants got to play at each station. Head Coach Craig Coates stated, “It really was a full club effort as the Men’s and Women’s teams, the Rugby Lil Sisters and our Recreational Sports Department were involved in pulling off this event. Everyone involved benefited from the event, children and adults.”
Texas A&M Club member and Rugby Buddy Conor Bertrand said, “It was awesome. It is a very special program that I am grateful I had the opportunity to experience. I am looking very forward to contributing as a buddy next year as well.” After the games, every child was awarded a Gareth Jones Challenger Game Medal and all Texas A&M players, children and family members sat down to dinner together.
According to Coach and Co-Tournament Director Johnny Smith, “You know, we’re going to Sweet 16’s this year and hopefully onward, but I know I will not be any prouder of our boys than I am today, no matter how far we go. I know both Coach Coates and I are honored to be a part of such a special young group.” Smith added, “The Challenger event really added something special to the tournament. I think it put things into perspective for everyone involved. Nate Mentzer is to be commended for organizing such a first class event and being totally committed to the experience of each and every participant.”
Mentzer stated, “The 1st Annual Challenger Rugby Game was a huge success and the Rugby Buddies did an amazing job! My extreme gratitude goes out to the Texas A&M Recreational Sports Department specifically Keith Joseph, Western Rugby Union, Texas Rugby Union, Fightin’ Texas A&M Fish Drill Team, Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, Reveille, Buppy’s catering and Mr. Rick Marshall, for making this event possible and very special for the Challengers. I am looking forward to next year!”
According to Co-Director Matt Graves, “This was the biggest and best Gareth Jones so far and we are looking very forward to expanding it next year. We intend to increase participation in the Challenger Match, add more women’s teams and also add a 5 – 9 year old “minis” division. Besides Challenger, the best part of the day was watching the 9 year olds play. It was very encouraging to see such young players participating in the tournament. We are very excited about the possibilities for next year and having more people involved. It was just a great day for rugby in Texas.”