Rugby, roller hockey also gaining steam at club level

Lacrosse isn't the only local club sport gaining in popularity. Rugby and roller hockey are also drawing young athletes.

Steve Young, head coach of the Naples Bears Rugby Club at Palmetto Ridge High School, is hopeful his sport can catch on in Southwest Florida.

"Right now, we're the only club in southwest Florida, but I really believe that will change," Young said. "This is our second year and we now have three teams, including a girls squad."

The defending state champion Bears compete in an eight-team league, but have to travel to places like Cocoa Beach, Orlando and Port St. Lucie for games. The Bears, undefeated and unscored upon in six games this year, host the state championship April 22.

"It's amazing how these kids have improved in a year's time," Young said. "I believe they can make some noise at the national level this year."

Young played rugby in New Jersey and helped start the Morris County Rugby Club, one of the biggest clubs in the northeast. His sons, Ryan and Shane, play rugby, and when the Youngs moved to Naples, he promised them he'd try to get a club started in southwest Florida. With the help of former athletic director Mario Doria, Young got the ball rolling at Palmetto Ridge.

"Part of the appeal of rugby is there is a place for everyone on the team, even kids who didn't think they could play other sports," he said. "There are 15 positions and we've got kids of all sizes out there. It's a sport that requires plenty of teammwork and a team that is better with the fundamentals will beat maybe a more athletic undisciplined team."

The Naples Roller Hockey League has a high school division, and the number of teams has grown from four to six in the last year. The league plays its games at Veterans Park and the high school division is run by Jeff Meyerson.

"The kids that start inline skating when they're young always gravitate to roller hockey," Meyerson said. "It's a sport that most kids stick with once they start it."

Since the teams practice and play games just once a week, it doesn't interfere too much with other extracurricular activities.

"We've got kids who play other sports in our league," he said. "I think they enjoy the fact they can do other things and still participate in roller hockey."

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