Organizers of a local boys’ rugby club could no longer deny it: the team just isn’t a Desert Vista High entity anymore.
So in recognition of the contributions made by boys outside that school, Desert Vista Rugby is now the Ahwatukee Rugby Club.
It’s just not a matter of recognizing contributions made by individual athletes. Organizers also want to broaden their reach and recruit more players.
“The club was originally founded by Alema Fitisimanu, who was an assistant coach for the Desert Vista football team,” coach Roger Tushingham explained. “The club has historically had the majority of its players come from DV, but we have always been lucky enough to have some boys from Mountain Pointe, and one or two from Corona as well.”
Last season’s captain, Justin Smith, was a Mountain Pointe student, and of the 11 boys who represented Arizona last year, three were from Mountain Pointe,” he added.
To attract more players, the club holds a Sunday Social Touch rugby event at 4:30 p.m. at Vista Canyon Park, 16020 S. 30th Place, Ahwatukee, every week. Formal practices, which begin Oct. 31, are 6-8 p.m. at two other Ahwatukee Parks: Mondays at Mountain Vista Park, 13647 S. 50th St. and Thursdays at Desert Foothills Park, Desert Foothills Parkway and Chandler Boulevard.
Registration begins Monday at ahwatukeerugbyclub.com.
Tushingham and his wife Kathy, the team manager and the vice president of Youth Rugby for Arizona, hope to build on the team’s success last season.
Eleven players represented Arizona in June in the Regional Cup Tournament in Denver, where two Desert Vista High students won distinction: sophomore Kyle Ostendorp was named the MVP for the junior varsity team and senior Adriaan Van Niekerk, a recent newcomer to Ahwatukee from South Africa, was named the best varsity forward.
And the Tushinghams are so eager to widen the club’s appeal that they’ve add a team for players 14 years of age and under. There are also teams for players 16 and under and 18 and under.
Right now, about 40 to 50 boys sign up each season, and Tushingham said recruiting can be something of a challenge.
“We find it tough to get the boys who have no experience of the game to give it a try,” Tushingham said. “Fortunately, our success rate at retaining kids once they have tried it out is pretty high. I think they like the physicality mixed with the fitness and mental aspects of the game.”
The Summer Olympics this year in Rio also should help, Tushingham said, former Desert Vista student Alex Miller, who plays professional rugby in Europe, represented Argentina in the games.
Tushingham also noted that some boys are influenced by the fact that several NFL players also play rugby, including New England Patriot Nate Ebner, who was on the U.S. Olympics team in Rio.
A rugy player since he was 6 and growing up in England, Tushingham comes from what he called “a rugby family.”
“Before I left England, I played rugby for Bedford Rugby Club,” he recalled. “At that time rugby was strictly an amateur sport, but since it turned professional in 1996, Bedford has been a full professional side playing in top leagues in England.”
Since he arrived in America in 1994, Tushingham has played with the Camelback Rugby Club and for a team called “Old Southwest,” a team of players over 40 years old who come from all over the Valley.
Although the seasons doesn’t start until January for all 14 high school-age clubs in Arizona, the Ahwatukee Rugby Club wants to prepare well. Hence, the November start to practices.
The season runs through May but players are selected to represent the state as part of a team that plays counterparts from other states through June.
“Rugby has had a huge positive impact on my life and I just love seeing the reaction that the boys have to the game and the culture,” Tushingham said. “It is great to see DV and Mountain Pointe guys side by side and becoming really close friends.”