BY GENE NARDI
The Wellington Wizards Rugby Club co-hosted the Florida State Rugby Championships with the Florida Rugby Union and the Florida Youth Rugby Union at the International Polo Club Palm Beach on Saturday, April 25. The competition was sanctioned by both unions to crown champions in each division.
The tournament combined 26 teams from U12s to adult divisions, including 10 high school club teams and a women’s division. Teams traveled from as far away as Daytona Beach and Miami to play during the one-day event. Many of the matches were semifinals and finals, as teams were already bracketed due to their performance over the entire season.
This is the first time Wellington has hosted an event, due in part to the Wizards being the most recent addition to the Florida Rugby Union. The Wizards surfaced to the circuit in January and, in their first year, vied for a shot at the state title.
“It has been phenomenal. The International Polo Club personnel are some of the most first-class people I’ve ever dealt with,” said Evan Haigh, the event coordinator and executive director of the Florida Rugby Union. “They’ve provided us with everything we needed to make this thing happen.”
To top off the day’s event, the Wizards’ U14 team won the state championship title with a 20-15 win over the West Pines Rugby Club.
“This win was humongous, not just for the team but for the club,” Wizards head coach Mark Patterson said. “All their hard work with the adversity they faced early in the finals to come back from a 15-6 deficit, it meant so much, especially with most of the team being first-year rugby players.”
The final match of the day took place in the men’s division between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, with Orlando taking that contest 26-12.
The competition closed out with the awards ceremony and a catered barbeque dinner. “We far exceeded our expectations this year, and doubled our expected numbers for the dinner,” Haigh said. “It’s very well located, and because of the high participation we’ve had, we’d love to do it here again. It has been a wonderful experience.”
It was evident that the tournament was a large success, and with expectations being exceeded from start to finish, the Florida Rugby Union hopes that it contributed to promoting the sport of rugby.
It also helps when the local club, the Wellington Wizards, brings home the state crown in its inaugural season. That is also sure to boost the popularity of the sport in Palm Beach County.
ABOVE: The Wellington Wizards Rugby Club U14 team with its state championship medals and trophy.