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Of course, it’s not that easy, and while I think Ed Hagerty is a great servant of the game, he’s got it wrong by highlighting apparent geographic and competitive disparities in the upcoming High School All American camp.
First of all, the teams that make the national playoffs are not the eight best U19 and eight best high school teams in the country. They are the best from their regions, but there are plenty of teams in RUGBYMag.com’s Top 20 that won’t make nationals, because they are in a tough region. We count seven or eight of the High School Top 20 who won’t be at the national playoffs.
In the U19 rankings, four of the Top 10 won’t be there – Colorado Springs won’t be there because Rugby Colorado has historically not entered the West RFU playoffs, and while this year they wanted to, they were denied; Highland, Liberty, Chuckanut, Tempe and United are all in the Pacific Coast, but only two will make it to the national playoffs.
So you see, depending on USA Rugby National Championships to provide the best teams is a false premise.
Secondly, the players selected are all from good teams. Implying there’s some hanky-panky in Tempe providing seven players for this camp is unfair to Salty Thompson (who helps the Tempe team). Tempe is ranked #6 in the nation by RUGBYMag.com. They are an excellent team. Peninsula Green is a very solid program – they are not ranked because finding results for them this year has been hard, but they are good. The Marin Highlanders are excellent (they were ranked at one point this year), and Colorado Springs almost beat Highland last week.
Thirdly about nationals, just because a team was good at nationals in 2010, doesn’t mean their players are even eligible for the High School All Americans in 2011. Players graduate.
In addition, especially with high school players, how active a coach is in promoting select-side and national team play influences whether a player makes himself available. When I was an assistant coach with a boys team way back in 2001, I produced a printout of USA-possible players for the then USA U19 Head Coach Mark Bullock. The printout listed each player’s age, position, strengths and weaknesses, and contact information. I listed about six, two made the team.
When I moved on to become a head coach for a girls team, every time I was involved in select-side teams, my club was heavily represented. Why? Because I talked up the program to the players, and they knew I was involved and figured it would be fun. In 2007 six players from my club played on the Pacific Coast U19 team. Was Budd Bay the best U19 team in the Pacific Coast? No, not at all. They were probably the 4th-best team. There were other U19 players in college who might well have pushed my players out … but I helped my players try out, and other coaches didn’t.
Had Hagerty bothered to check with High School All American Coach Salty Thompson (something this writer did attempt to do beginning on April 21) he would have found out that many candidates for the HSAA team are in the middle of playoffs or key parts of their season. They couldn’t attend a camp.
But they can attend another camp, and they will be invted. The High School All Americans must, as Hagerty correctly points out, do something to cover the 800-plus boys U19 and high school teams around the country. One way is to hold camps at different times of the year, and in different locations.
Not every player in this camp will be on the HSAA team. Some aren’t expected to … yet. They are in camp to be a part of a high-level camp, learn, and perhaps help their club along the way. They can also come back a year or two in the future and lead that team.
I would say give the HSAA program the benefit of the doubt, but I won’t, because there should be no doubt. The players in camp are all very, very good. Some might even be from bad teams, but they can still play (were we to tell Paul Emerick or Todd Clever that they couldn’t be All Americans because their college teams weren’t top DI programs?). Hagerty himself supports the notion of a player coming out of nowhere for international honors – that’s why he wants the senior National All-Star Championship back. But now, when the High School All American program wants to see teams that aren’t from his list of leading programs, he balks.
There’s a reason every one of those kids is in camp. Not all will blossom, but many will. Go Salty.