A Rugby Team Case Study: Purposeful Travel Beyond the Walls of The Heights - The Heights School
ARTICLES A Rugby Team Case Study: Purposeful Travel Beyond the Walls of The Heights

Trips off campus are more than just enjoyable opportunities for our boys to explore the world outside of the classroom. Our excursions also have tremendous value as vehicles for formation. Furthermore, these days out offer parents and teachers the chance to get a glimpse of the type of men our boys are becoming. Within the routine of the school day and the comfort of our halls, we see our boys through their interactions with well-acquainted peers and teachers, through known academic habits and extracurricular talents, and, generally, in a context of things to which they are accustomed. But how do our boys act when taken outside of this environment? How do they interact with people in the broader public? And how do they react to challenges in the wider world? It is true that our boys can learn much and grow in many ways during a well-planned, purposeful trip, and we, too, as teachers in these settings, learn a lot about them.

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I had one of these memorable trips on an unseasonably warm and pleasant November weekend, when The Heights Rugby Team took a road trip from Potomac to Chicago to see the famous New Zealand “All Blacks” face Ireland in the headline match of the city’s annual ‘Rugby Weekend’. I am not a coach within the rugby program, nor do I teach or advise any of the members of the team, but I am a lover of all things Irish and am comfortable driving long distances, so I was brought on-board by Coach Shane O’Neill. As a matter of fact, before this weekend my familiarity with the Rugby Team and its members was based on the brief, polite encounters that are typical, though infrequent, between Upper School students and Middle School faculty. I had also watched the team play several home matches in the Spring of 2016 and fight their way through an impressive season to a playoff berth. I knew that the boys on the team had hard noses. What I realized over the course of this weekend was that they also had warm hearts.

Having left the Heights Friday afternoon, our bus arrived in South Bend, Indiana, in the early hours of Saturday morning. Coach O’Neill planned our stop-over here not only to split up what would otherwise have been an eleven-hour drive, but also to visit the University of Notre Dame on Saturday morning, to make a pilgrimage to their Basilica of the Sacred Heart and its Holy Door for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and to have a brief reunion with a number of Heights rugby alumni. To see the way that these former teammates and classmates embraced each other and interacted throughout the tour of campus (led by three young Cavaliers-turned-Fightin’ Irish) was like seeing brothers come home from their first semester at college.

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After our tour we hopped back on the bus and made our way to the Windy City and Soldier Field. We could tell as we approached the stadium that the atmosphere was electric. Tens of thousands of rugby fans in waves of alternating green and black made their way to the turnstiles to see what was certain to be the biggest rugby match ever played on U.S. soil. The stands filled rapidly. Songs and chants broke out from opposing groups of supporters. The teams took to the field and the All Blacks performed their legendary ‘Haka’.

The match itself was one of the greatest live sporting events that I have witnessed. In front of a sold-out crowd of sixty-two thousand (the largest ever for a rugby match in the United States), many of whom had actually come all the way from Ireland or New Zealand specifically for this contest, Ireland defeated the All Blacks for the first time ever, in a high-scoring, heavyweight battle. For any other group, this would have been the highlight of the trip. From my perspective, though, this was only one event in a weekend of highlights for the Heights ‘Ruggers’.

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While waiting for a few slices of Chicago’s famed deep-dish pizza, the boys continued to ride the wave from the day’s activities. Heavy foot traffic outside the pizzeria led to numerous conversations with passersby about their sport, their trip, and their School. More than a few times, the boys got into a game of pass with complete strangers, tossing and kicking the rugby balls up and down the sidewalk.

Sunday marked our final day and the long ride home to Maryland. By lunchtime, most of the boys had spent nearly twenty hours on the bus in two days. The sophomores, however, who had just returned from their class trip to Old Rag Mountain, had spent the last four days on the road! Instead of giving in to travel fatigue and the usual irritability that comes with it, though, the boys started singing Irish folk songs and classic rock anthems. The last three hours of our trip back to the Heights were spent singing.

Our hope for our boys, as parents and teachers, is that when they leave the Heights they will be “men fully alive”; that they will become saints in the middle of the world. Trips like those led by Coach O’Neill of the Heights Rugby Team, and those ventured upon by all of our boys, do give our students the opportunity to learn about the world around them. But even more importantly, these excursions also give each boy the chance to practice bringing his vitality, his joy, and his goodness into that world.

article_eulexia_2Kyle teaches 7th grade Core and Lands and Conquests classes in the middle school. A native of the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, Kyle fed his passions for history, literature, music, and sports while completing both a BA in History and MA in Adolescent Education at Adelphi University in Long Island, New York, and an MA in Irish History at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A college soccer player and Eagle Scout, Kyle supports students in the classroom, on the field, and in the outdoors.

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