Old sport new creating new buzz: Yukon Rugby has grown to the largest rugby club in Oklahoma

Even though it is not a sanctioned OSSAA sport, rugby is becoming an increasingly popular sport in Yukon.

The first Yukon rugby team began in the 2014-2015 school year with 35 boys. The first season was in the spring of 2015 with a record of 1-10. The club plays at the soccer complex behind Lakeview Elementary School.

Aric Gilliland started the Yukon rugby program and he is the Director or Rugby and boys head coach.

Gilliland is a 1997 graduate of Yukon high school. He is a Miller football alum played for Mike Little and Bill Dalke. He was named All-State as a senior, All-District and Big All-City. All state by class. Gilliland finished his football career at Southern Nazarene University. He started playing Rugby with OKC Crusaders after college. He currently teaches U.S. History at Yukon High School.

“When I started playing rugby, I realized very quickly I was having the time of my life,” Gilliland said. “The culture of family and fun was tremendous. A couple days before school started fall 2014, I met a new Football Coach, Robby Davis. I had previously been set to start coaching football in the fall of 2014. That changed when head coach Todd Wilson left. I did not have a coaching assignment. Robby had previously coached high school rugby in Canton. Within about three minutes from meeting we decided to start a rugby program in Yukon.

“I truly believe every kid should have the opportunity to experience this game. That sounds extreme but I’d say that 99 out of 100 kids that give it a try gain great enjoyment out of the game. This is why we’ve worked so hard to expand the sport in our area.”

Helping Gilliland is assistant Head Coach Jim Morgan. Morgan is a 15-year veteran of rugby after graduating from North Dakota School of Mines on a football scholarship. He spent time playing rugby in St Louis, Wichita, and Oklahoma City. He is an Engineer working for a major aeronautical company.

Among the 35 boys that helped start rugby was Hunter Blanchard, who spent 2015-2016 playing football at Taber College in Kansas and then transferred this past year to Lindenwood-Bellevue in Illinois on a rugby scholarship.

Blanchard is one of the finalists to play for the United States under-20 international team.

Another player highlight from the first Yukon rugby roster is Brian Orr, who is attending the University of Central Oklahoma and is playing rugby for the OKC Crusader in the Texas Rugby Union and will depart on January 20 to go play professional rugby in New Zealand.

The first Yukon rugby girls team began training in the spring of 2015 but they did not compete in a match until they traveled to Liberty, Missouri to compete in a tournament in October of that year.

The head girls coach is Mike Mason, who used to coach girls soccer at Mustang and was considered one of the top soccer coaches in the state.

Mason had 30-plus years of experience in coaching with many of those years in soccer. Mason’s rugby experience began in 1980’s at William and Mary College. He is one of the pioneers of rugby in Oklahoma and played for the original OKC Rugby club in 80’s and 90’s. Mason teaches health sciences in Mustang.

Other part time assistants include David Rudd-Ross and Scott Phillips and the graduate assistants include Brendan Berry, Zach Dia, and Tristen Sheffer.

The 2015-2016 season for the boys was a success, as they finished with an 8-3 record and included a highlight win over Jenks in January and a come from behind win over Norman with no time left on the clock.

The boys finished in third-place in the league based on their record but they missed the playoffs due to the point system ranking system, which is widely used in rugby.

In February 2016, Yukon rugby started the first-ever junior high rugby team in Oklahoma with 20 eighth-grade boys. They competed in one tournament and participated in three friendly matches with teams out of Springfield, Missouri. There final record in 2016 was 5-1.

The first full season for the Yukon girls rugby team was in the spring of 2016, as the state of Oklahoma had its first-ever girls’ rugby season. Three total teams competed in the league, which were Yukon, Bixby and Broken Arrow. The Yukon girls finished with a 2-2 overall record and in second-place behind Broken Arrow.

By the end of the 2016 season, Yukon had 85 total students from the area participating in rugby, which made the Yukon rugby program the biggest rugby club in the state.

The 2016 Yukon rugby player highlights include Canton Meadows being offered a football scholarship at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. after he had a successful rugby campaign in 2016.

Five Yukon rugby boys were named to the All-Oklahoma Rugby Team. Brendan Berry, Jesse Smith, Julio Reyes, Jordan Davis and Leo Martinez were five named to Team Oklahoma.

Five Yukon rugby girls were named All-Region, which includes Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. The five girls were Ashlynn Hendricks, Jordyn Ruth, Shandree McNatt, Jasmine Davis and Kamryn Seale.

Most recently, sophomores Shandree McNatt and Meg Morgan were been invited to a high school All-American selection camp in Phoenix. A rugby scout attended a clinic at OU during the same weekend the Yukon rugby players were attending a camp. The scout had a little time set aside to scout the girls there and within two days McNatt and Morgan had invitations from the All-American camp. There will be roughly 60 girls attending this invitation-only camp. From these 60, 25-30 players will be selected to tour state side as well as internationally on the 2017 girls high school All-American team.

“We are a program built around family,” Gilliland said. “We will always work hard to be our very best in all aspects of life including our homes, school, work, and athletics. We expect a high level of resect and effort from our players.”

History of rugby in the United States

Rugby is the father of American football. The United States rugby team competed in the Olympic Games in 1924. Rugby was not an Olympic sport again until 2016 in a version of the game known as 7’s, which seven-on-seven rugby. The full version of rugby is 15-on-15.

Rugby is the fastest growing sport in the country right now. Football teams across the nation are implementing rugby-style tackling techniques for the purpose of safety and effectiveness. One example of those football teams is the Super Bowl winning franchise Seattle Seahawks.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Mason on January 14, 2017 at 11:30 am

    Thank you for the great article. Aric is a good man to lead this bunch of young men and women. He teaches respect of the game and officials, and treal your opponents the way you want to be treated.

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