Golden Bears set for state tournament
By Dan Hiner
It didn’t take long for the East boys rugby team to become competitive. East will be the top seed in the state tournament on Sunday.
The Golden Bears will play Northwest High School in the Division III Cup tournament semifinals at Weis Park in Canton.
East head coach Bill Burton thought the team could be competitive in its first season, but didn’t expect to potentially play for a state title.
“I’m very excited about it,” Burton said. “I wasn’t really expecting to have the amount of success we’ve had.
“I knew that we had the athletes and we’d do well in regular-season games, but to be able to make the final four in our first year is something I wasn’t really expecting.”
The tournament is a European-style event. The semifinals are scheduled in the morning and the state title match will be played in the afternoon.
If the Golden Bears beat Northwest, they will play the winner of Shaker Heights and Parma for the title.
East (5-1-1) beat Northwest 24-0 in their first game of the season and Burton credits the East football players with the success of the program.
The Golden Bears’ roster mostly consists of freshmen and sophomores, and younger members of East’s football team were excited to sign up.
There are 27 members of the Golden Bears’ rugby team. Only three don’t play football.
“Most of them being football players, the running and tackling they already knew,” Burton said. “All I had to do is teach them the rules of the game and some other different aspects. They picked it up a lot faster than you would have expected at this time.”
Because rugby isn’t an OHSAA sport, students from surrounding school districts can play for the Golden Bears. In addition to Chaney and East students, the roster also features two players from Girard, one from Boardman and one from Canfield.
Expectations were mixed at the start of the season. Some players thought the team would compete while others thought it would take time. In the end, they players are looking forward to their first playoff game.
“I never really expected [to play for a title],” East freshman My’Twan Cottle said. “I expected to get far but I never expected us to get this far.”
Burton said the team relied on its athletic ability more than strategy early in the season. But after losing to Watkins Memorial High School, the players realized they needed to learn the finer points of the game in order to compete.
“I think that score was 60-22,” Burton said. “We were bigger, stronger, faster than them but they were a better rugby team. And I think our kids finally saw that everything we’re trying to tell them as far as passing the ball, using your athleticism — and not just trying to overpower people — worked.”
In addition to its first state tournament, the program is excited to announce its first All-Ohio rugby players. East’s Xhariyon Williams and Boardman’s Timmy Bowser were named all-state this week.
“It’s my first year so I’m pretty happy with [making all-state],” Williams said. “It shows I’ve been grinding, working hard, putting work in on the team and it’s showing I can contribute, too.”
The players at East believe a title will help energize the students, especially when football season arrives.
“I don’t know about other players, but we didn’t come from winning,” East’s Elijah Smith said. “It’s just a new feeling. We just hope to come home with a ring and a trophy.”