Trumbull High's new boys and girls rugby teams bring community ‘buzz’

Photo of Amanda Cuda

TRUMBULL — JT Smith knew that a lot of Trumbull families were interested in rugby. But he had no idea how many people wanted to bring the sport to Trumbull until he had a meeting in October to measure the interest.

For the past eight years, Smith has coached for the Fairfield Rugby Club. In that time he has recruited many Trumbull kids — including his own sons — to join the team.

“It got to the point where a few of the (Trumbull) parents were saying ‘Why can’t we have our own team?’ ” Smith said.

He immediately took to the idea. A longtime rugby player himself, Smith said he loves introducing children to the game.

“It’s a physical sport, but it’s also challenging to play mentally,” Smith said.

Before launching a rugby club in Trumbull, he wanted to make sure there was enough interest in starting a team. So he put a call out to any Trumbull youths who might be interested to attend a meeting at the high school. Roughly 100 students showed up, about a quarter of them girls.

The interest was enough to persuade the high school to add boys and girls rugby teams at Trumbull High School in the spring. Smith will be head coach, and he also sits on the board of directors of the Trumbull Eagles Rugby Club, a booster club supporting the new teams.

The club’s president is Smith’s wife, Linda, who first became acquainted with rugby through her husband, and then through their four sons.

“It’s just a very fun sport,” Linda Smith said. “It doesn’t have the level of structure other sports can have.”

Rugby is believed to have started in England in 1823. It is a contact sport involving 15 players on each team. The sport has been gaining traction locally, with clubs and teams popping up throughout the state, including Fairfield, Greenwich, Westport and elsewhere.

One of the biggest differences between rugby and traditional football is that players’ roles are less defined, said Sara Desautels, secretary of the Eagles Rugby Club. Desautels has two sons who have played both football and rugby, and she said the latter is, in a way, more democratic.

“In football, you’re kind of put in a box for your position. In rugby you play everything,” she said. “They could score. They could tackle. They weren’t so limited. Everybody in rugby gets the glory. Everyone gets the same opportunities, which is huge in youth sports.”

Desautels said there’s already a lot of excitement about the Trumbull High teams.

“There’s a lot of buzz in school,” she said. “There’s a lot of buzz in the community.”

Linda Smith agreed. She said she’s already fielding requests from parents about starting a youth rugby program in Trumbull for elementary school-aged children. She has started an online survey to ascertain interest, and responses are building.

JT Smith said he’s excited about the new high school program, and expects it to only grow in popularity.

“I feel like the numbers are only going to increase year over year,” he said. “There’s a huge desire for it.”

For more information, visit the Trumbull Eagles Rugby Club web site at https://trumbulleaglesrugby.com/.