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How different is the assembly of the High School All Americans from the U20s?
Both squads are holding their winter camps in Tempe, Ariz., but while the U20s team assembles without an announced Head Coach and a distinct lack of continuity (no coach has been in place during the summer or fall since 2011), the High School All Americans are a model of consistency.
That’s because Salty Thompson has been in charge of this team for years. He has assembled a smart and respected coaching staff, and continues to do a solid job of tracking players.
Thompson just announced the launching of his Eagle Impact Academy, starting in Southern California and in Washington, and expected to expand elsewhere. The Eagle Impact Academy, partially funded by Aircraft Charter Solutions, whose chairman, Robin Reid, has seen his son Michael thrive in the HSAA program, is designed to help young players make the jump to international rugby.
The EIA started in Southern California because of the density of solid players there – by far the most players in the HSAA teams come from California. Thompson expanded to Washington because that state, despite having a relatively small number of HS/U19 programs, has consistently produced national team players. The academy will expand to North Carolina, Indiana, and elsewhere soon (it won’t go to Northern California because Paul Keeler’s International Academy is doing the same job there, said Thompson).
Thompson has enlisted the help of RUGBYMag.com columnist Karen Donoghue to talk to players about college and their futures. He is establishing more than just a team that assembles every year, but a program.
Other comparisons to the U20 program show the older kids get less for their work. The HS All Americans fielded two 7s teams in the Las Vegas Invitational, and have for the last few years. The U20s do not. The HSAAs send a 7s team to play in the Rosslyn Park 7s. The U20s cannot, but 7s is not at all on that program’s radar.
The HSAAs don’t have a world championship to play for, but have a dependable plan that includes the Wellington International Festival every spring, and a tour each summer. The U20s play in the IRB-sanctioned Junior World Rugby Trophy, or the Junior World Championships, which changes the time it is played every year. There is no tour, but they usually have warmup games against Canada.
With two teams of kids, the comparison is almost as if you are comparing parents. The High School All Americans is like a household where the kids are told what’s expected of them, dinner is on the table on a regular basis, and life might not be flashy but the parents are on time to pick you up, attentive, and at the same time expect the kids to grow up.
And the U20s is like a household where the parents are away at work or a spa somewhere half the time, and then when they show up, they take the kids on an expensive trip to make up for the neglect, never realizing that little things like discipline and maturity have fallen by the wayside.
Similarly, while Thompson has had the time and the security to develop a program for the HS All American players which includes coaching on how to be an elite rugby player, how to prepare for 7s and 15s, how to tour, and how to prepare for college, the U20 coach, whoever he is, never has that luxury.