Warren’s Chris White helping Clarion rugby go places
First, Chris White had to learn the game, then came winning.
White and his Clarion University men’s rugby club recently won the Allegheny Rugby Union (ARU) Bowl Championship and advanced to the National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) Bowl Playoffs. Those NCR playoffs started at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and ended 700 miles away in St. Louis, Mo., against — ironically — Grove City College.
“The most fun experience is, without a doubt, winning the ARU Bowl,” said White, a Clarion/PennWest senior who played football and wrestled at Warren Area High School. “It was such a sweet, sweet victory, especially since we weren’t 100 percent sure if we would have a team for 15-a-side this year or if we would have a program a year before. The most difficult part has to be the start of the season; it was almost demoralizing to get those losses.”
The competition at the beginning of the season for Clarion was intentionally difficult (as if the helmet-less/pad-less sport itself isn’t rough enough). An 0-4 start from Sept. 10 to Oct. 8 for the Small College club included a 65-0 loss to Division 2 Kent State.
“Alright, so the season started rough,” said White. “Our coach purposefully had our season start hard with playing Division 2 Kent State, Slippery Rock (ranked eighth in the country at the time/NCR Small College), and Franciscan (ranked sixth in the country at the time/NCR Small College). We also had a ton more kids playing that haven’t played before or, in my case, haven’t played 15-a-side before, so it was a learning experience.”
More than a month after the season started, Clarion grabbed its first win.
“We got our first win playing against SUNY Fredonia,” said White, “then opted into the bowl series where we would play in the playoffs for the Allegheny Rugby Union Bowl Championships, which we ended up winning (three weeks later on Nov. 5) against SUNY Fredonia, 90-7. We then had to win against Saint Vincent College to qualify for playoffs in St. Louis…
“At St. Louis, we made it to the finals and lost to Grove City, which off topic is weird we had to go to St. Louis to play them,” said White. “As I said before, we had a rough start to our schedule, playing really good teams with more experience,” which White said helped Clarion and the players prepare for the playoffs.
Despite losing 51-5 to Grove City, to be playing for a Small College Challenge Bowl Series Midwest Championship showed this team’s resiliency after an 0-4 start.
“The game, as I said, did not go our way,” said White, whose Golden Eagles won five straight plus a forfeit to advance to the championship. “We came out very flat with not a lot of energy and, personally, I was very nervous going in. When I was in, I played as hard as I can. Unfortunately, I did get my bell rung where the ref told me to come out and for 15-a-side, you can’t go back in once you’re subbed out. The team, after the nerves, started playing better, (but) we were missing some key pieces due to injuries and some could not make the trip on such short notice. Grove City took advantage of that…
“We would not have even been able to come close to where we are right now if it weren’t for our captains, Ethan Zdarko and Andrew Guth, or our coaches, Dr. Marc Sanko, Andrew Wilson, and Dalton Meals.”
For his college experience, a trip to St. Louis was icing on the cake.
“Bonding wise, it’s nice,” said White. “We are, for the most part, all friends. We spend a lot of time off the field together hanging out, playing video games, and getting food.
“Unfortunately, for my mom (Marcia), I would like to say, yes, this is a sport that I will continue to play,” Chris said. “As I said the last time (we spoke), I fell in love with it. I love the guys, so I will be continuing with it.
“I started playing rugby in the spring on a whim from my friends that suggested it to me and, since then, I would like to say I’ve grown both as a player and a person,” White posted on Facebook after the ARU title match. “Just like me, my teammates have grown so much. This win means so much. I am so proud of my team… and the amazing coaches that we have that helped us grow.”