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Rugby in America's high schools represented the last place of expansion. Today, rugby is the nation's fastest growing team sport, proliferating for boys and girls throughout the country at the high school level.
High school rugby can be traced back to northern California in the 1905 to 1914 period when Cal and Stanford abandoned gridiron football to play rugby, a move that also included, among others, St. Mary’s, Santa Clara. U. of Nevada, and USC. A full cohort of high schools in the Bay Area also played the game, as well as a school league in Los Angeles.
Back east, there was no such historical conversion as college gridiron never gave way to the British game. But during the expansion of club and college rugby in New York City during the decade of the 1960's, the first high school side began at St. Francis Prep under the tutelage of Brother Owen and ruggers and publicans John Barnes and Al Whelan.
For a decade, St. Francis had no other competition from other local schools, playing matches away in Canada. Ireland, and the UK. and winning most against other boys' XVs. Many a second or third team eastern club side underestimated their younger opponents, who were always more fit, and did not make glaring, penalty-awarding mistakes. One of the St. Francis standouts was Mike Petri, Senior.
In 1976, Xavier High School's football coach searched for an off-season sport his players could do to keep fit in the spring. Enter Tom O'Hara, who had played rugby for six-years but was lacking in long-term coaching experience. Each subsequent year, more players turned out for the side, and even though wins were few, both coach and club gained more confidence. By 1978, Xavier could mount a trip to California, and, importantly losing that year 10-8 to the Montgomery School, Winchester, England.
Everyone knows what happened to Xavier rugby since 1979, becoming a national high school power, and providing outstanding players (Mike Petri, Jr.) and also national coaches in Mike Tolkin.