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Montana Youth Rugby continues to grow as registration doubles from just a year ago

With an inside look from the 2024 State Rugby Tournament
2024 STATE RUGBY TOURNAMENT
Posted at 11:10 AM, May 28, 2024

HELENA — Montana high school rugby teams from all across the state gathered in Helena for the 2024 state tournament.

Organizers said that this was the biggest year yet for the tournament as they welcomed more participants than ever before.

On Saturday members, and businesses, from all across Montana flooded Centennial Field for the tournament.

While the sport of rugby has lived in Montana for decades, the community of youth rugby continues to grow in the state.

JD Stephenson, Chief Executive Officer of the Montana Institute of Sport, said that just from last year, they have doubled in numbers saying that this is just the beginning.

“We're up to a total of seven programs, you know, across the state are coming online to make it next year. You know, makes for a really exciting time for Montana youth rugby,” said Stephenson.

GALLATIN ADVANCING THE BALL IN THE 2024 STATE RUGBY FINALS

The Montana Institute of Sport is a nonprofit youth sports development organization that looks to grow the sport of rugby K-12 for both boys and girls across the state.

“The level of rugby is continuing to get higher, and the standard is higher. You know, we're trying to develop a well-rounded athlete that is prepared and ready to play any sport and take on any challenge that life throws at them,” said Stephenson.

Rugby is a sport that to the blind eye, people would say it’s unique because of people getting hoisted into the air, or the scrums they get into for possession of the ball. Out of all of that, many say the most unique thing about the sport is their community.

“Rugby is a sport that's more of a family than any other sport we've ever been involved with. A lot of the families get together or work together or play together. It's like one big family,” said Terra Stopher, a mother of four kids who all play rugby.

GALLATIN RUGBY SCORING A TRY AT THE 2024 RUGBY STATE FINALS

Stopher says that one of her kids, Caleb, initially tried the sport as a freshman at Capital High School because a friend of his played for the Helena Youth Rugby Club. It then quickly became a family sport.

“I had no idea what they were doing, no idea what was going on. I had to look up little YouTube videos, learning how the game worked, and what was happening so that I could understand it. Then my girls sat on the sidelines with me for a year, and now all three of my girls also play. So we have four players this year,” said Stopher.

It’s also one of the many reasons why Miss Helena Teen USA, Paige Springer, joined the Helena Girls U19 team.

“First day they welcomed me in with open arms and they immediately were like your family now, and you're our sister,” said Springer.

BITTERROOT GIRLS U19 STATE FINALS GAME PHOTO

For Springer, it’s not easy balancing tackling people on the pitch, to competing in pageants, but she says that it’s well worth it.

“It's actually really fun because they're very different activities, but it's really fun because I get to not just advocate for women on the pitch, but advocate for women outside of the pitch and being able to show that, hey, women can do anything that they want to put their minds to, including rugby and being able to tackle people and just ball out,” said Springer.

The evening ended with the Bitterroot Girls U19 and the Missoula Boys U19 teams hoisting the trophies for winning their respective tournaments.