Featured Stories

Columbia County Operators taking off for spring season

Boys', girls' club rugby teams welcome new talent

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Columbia County Operators coach Spencer Jones (center), Scappoose freshman Clayton Miller (left) and Scappoose junior Cory Hoff, right, who has spent time as an offensive lineman for Indians football, run a live drill at practice at Warren Elementary School.The Columbia County Operators — Scappoose, St. Helens, Vernonia, Rainier and Clatskanie’s boys’ and girls’ high school rugby clubs — can use you.

Operators assistant coach Jay Worley, 63, who started the boys’ team in 2003, highlights the freedom of the sport.

“Everyone can kick, everybody handles the ball and everybody tackles,” Worley said. “There’s a lot of decision-making on your own, so you can use whatever athletic abilities you have.”

Rugby Oregon, online at rugbyoregon.com, boasts 10 boys’ club teams, eight boys’ high school varsity teams and 11 girls’ club teams from across the state.

If you want to play for the Operators, you will.

It costs between $150 and $200 for aspiring Operators to sign up via rugbyoregon.com.

Per team policy, no one is excluded.

“Come to a rugby game. If you like it, you can get registered within 48 hours,” said Columbia County coach Spencer Jones, 27, who played on the state championship team in 2007. “If you watch, you’ll want to play.”

The registration deadline is midseason, and the first game is yet to be played. Players must have full-contact practices to be eligible.

Players condition in their own time as practices are Tuesdays and Thursdays at Warren Elementary School.

“Nobody gets cut, and with 15 guys on a side, we really need about 25 guys,” Worley said. “The game comes from Rugby, Ireland, where some kid picked up a ball and ran with it, and kids chased and tackled him.”

Worley played flanker from ages 18 to 59 and served at Oregon State University, where he studied forestry from 1971 to 1976.

“It’s one of the few contact sports you can play ‘til you’re 30 or 40,” Worley said. “New Zealand and Australian kids have been playing since they were six years old.”

Rugby will return from a 92-year hiatus at the 2016 Summer Olympics. The United States is the most successful Olympic rugby nation, having won the 1920 and 1924 tournaments.

Columbia County has sent a lot of players to Oregon State.

Jones retired from the United State Marine Corps three years ago, was the Operators’ assistant coach in 2014 and became head coach last year.

“If I’m not serving my country, I’m serving my community,” Jones said. “If I’m not serving my community, I’m serving my family.”

Columbia County has 11 players, including wrestlers soon to begin rugby practice, as of Tuesday.

Scappoose High School senior Cody Erhardt, set to contend at 160 pounds in the OSAA Class 4A Wrestling State Championships on Friday and Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, is a captain this year.

Time and transportation conflicts are issues for participation, so the boys’ team expect to compete in Division II, akin to junior varsity, but lots of teams are in a similar state.

Matches have two 35-minute halves with a running clock. Injuries are treated on the sideline while game speed continues.

“A lot of kids and parents have a misconception that it’s all smash-and-bash,” Worley said. “All of the coaches need to have training for concussion protocol. Immediately after every match, the home team puts on a luncheon. When the match is over, you make friends with the other team. It’s very helpful to have rugby parents.”

Operators players are required to talk to players from the other team as it’s good conduct for careers and for life.

“I don’t allow yelling or screaming because it makes a hostile environment,” Jones said.

Dirty players are pulled immediately.

Jones calls the Operators Columbia County’s ‘misfits’ because, “no one knows about rugby.”

“Sometimes people pull over and ask what the team is practicing,” Jones said.

Rugby is great for keeping kids involved and active. Skipping practice warrants less playing time.

“Here they can let it all out,” Jones said. “They just need cleats and socks.”

Some players last season did homework for the first half-hour of practice.

“Some kids need that space and encouragement,” Jones said. “Leave your issues in the parking lot and act like a professional at practice and a hooligan on the field. You can’t cheat these kids — there’s a standard I uphold, but we understand that mistakes will be made. The worst decision is no decision. Anyone who’s never played rugby, I welcome a lot.”

The boys’ club was the championship runner-up in spring of 2014.

The girls were the bowl runner-ups in fall of 2014 and the shield champions in the spring of 2015.

“When it gets a little muddy, it gets a little fun,” Jones said. “We can make anything happen.”