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By Steve Breazeale
The roots of organized youth rugby in the city of San Clemente can be traced back 13 years to the fields at Concordia Elementary. It was there that Australian transplant and longtime city resident Karl Terrey held his first official practices as coach of the newly formed San Clemente Youth Rugby club.
Terrey, who played the sport growing up just outside Sydney, had a team of 10 players on that first team. It was a good start for a beach community that knew little about the sport.
As the years went on, Terrey’s efforts attracted more and more players. The only other youth club teams were in Fullerton and San Diego, so San Clemente turned into the de facto hot spot for the sport in South Orange County. Terrey offered free after-school rugby tutorials at Concordia and eventually parlayed that into a scheduled course taught in conjunction with the city’s Recreation Department.
A rugby culture quickly began to form.
Now San Clemente Youth Rugby boasts over 180 players. The club, which plays under the name SC Gators, has also helped jumpstart four high school club programs. There are now student-run clubs at San Clemente High School, Dana Hills, JSerra Catholic and San Juan Hills.
“It all started with Karl getting people exposed to and playing rugby,” San Clemente Triton Rugby founder Greg Foreman said. “He really was the catalyst, and he spent a lot of his own time into getting this going.”
As a way to honor its founder, the club created the Karl Terrey Cup this season. The Karl Terrey Cup is a three-game series featuring all of the high school programs in the area. The San Clemente Tritons beat San Juan Hills in the deciding match earlier this season and will retain the cup until next year.
Like any non-traditional American sport, it took Southern California time to embrace the sport that is popular elsewhere in the country and around the world. Other than its athletic appeal, the key to its popularity, Terrey knew, would be to show local sports fans the family-style culture that he believes is synonymous with rugby.
“I wanted to have a youth sport that was more than just turning up to a game just before it starts, play, eat a snack, and leaving,” Terrey said. “I missed the rugby culture and camaraderie and wanted the youth in San Clemente to experience it.”
Now when the Gators or high school clubs have matches, it is sometimes a day-long event. Family, friends and players hang out, eat, watch and play rugby at Vista Hermosa Sports Park for hours.
Terrey made it out to watch some of the high school club teams compete for the cup named in his honor this season and was impressed. The sport is thriving at the youth level, as every high school team carries between 30 and 40 players. Some even have enough members to field a junior varsity team.
“Having a legacy like this is an amazing honor and I was humbled by it. The success is not mine though. It belongs to all the players, coaches, referees and parents who have dedicated time to making the sport successful here in San Clemente. I just had the idea initially,” Terrey said. “It was more than I hoped for back in 2004. Much more.”