WEST UNION, W.Va. – As we inch closer to the start of the Summer Olympics, it’s a good time to start familiarizing ourselves with sports that we don’t see or follow very often.
So what better time to introduce you all to the West Virginia Black Bears high school girls rugby team than now?
The Black Bears are a locally run high school rugby team made up of players from both West Virginia and Pennsylvania. On the active roster are a trio of girls from Marion County as the lone Mountain State representatives.
Sunday, the Black Bears and two other teams met at Doddridge County Park in West Union for a round-robin tournament.
Hearing how some of the players got into the sport was interesting. Some you could tell, it’s part of their family background; while others are trying it out for the first time and falling in love with the sport on a sunny day in the Mountain State.
“I love it. It’s basically like football, and I’ve grown up playing backyard football with my cousins, so this is just a love I’ve found,” says North Marion High School student, and NMHS basketball player, McKenzie McKintosh.
“Me and McKenzie, we live up the same hollow, and she was like ‘Hey you’re really tough, you’re a farm girl. You want to play rugby with me?’ I was like sure, I don’t know what it is, but sure. And yeah, that’s how I started,” said Leilah Hamilton, who’s also a student at North Marion. “I’m loving it. It’s fun. It’s tough, sometimes brutal, and it’s just fun.”
As you can tell, there are different ways and reasons for these players getting involved. Some of the players, such as McKintonsh and Hamilton, are completing their first true season in the sport.
“I learned that there’s a lot more in me than I thought there was,” said McKintosh when asked what she’s learned so far this year. “Sometimes these games are not always easy. It takes a lot of effort, and I ‘m glad I got started, because I found out more about myself and more about something I love.”
In fact, McIntosh helped get this team going, along with head coach Raymond Bezjak, who not only played the sport internationally, but now helps lead the Fairmont State rugby programs.
“We have to travel from Pittsburg, we travel to Virginia, we’re traveling to Maryland. We have a spring season and a fall season,” Bezjak said. “They enjoy good tackling, great form. They’re strong, hard runners. I mean, just have that attack mentality that they want to score, they want to be on top, and they’re not afraid.”
Bezjak also says he’s hoping to start a boys rugby team in the area this fall.
“We are actually doing a summer rugby flag league this year here at Doddridge County (Park). We’re going to allow it to be co-ed in the middle school division and the high school division, just so they get the running fundamentals and passing. While everyone pretty much knows how to tackle, running and scoring is also a big point too,” said Bezjak.
According to the Black Bears head coach, multiple colleges in West Virginia either have rugby teams or even offer rugby scholarships.
For more information on the Black Bears, you can visit their Facebook page by clicking on the link. Those interested in signing up for the team, or looking for more information, can also reach out to Bezjak via email at email@example.com.