Aspiring rugby pros come to Hanover Park for immersion camp
Rugby is gaining traction in the United States, and with the recent formation of a professional league, Chicago could have a franchise in the near future.
It was with that in mind that Silverbacks Elite Rugby, an organization working to identify and shape potential players in their teens and early 20s, came to Hanover Park this week to host a camp for young athletes.
The three-day immersion camp landed in the village's Community Park after Joey Rasmus Jr., president and lead coach of Silverbacks, connected with family friend Mark Elkins, president of the Hanover Park Park District board.
Rasmus said Hanover Park was a particularly suitable location for the program because it's accessible to the Northwest and Southwest suburbs.
Park district Executive Director Bob O'Brien said he hopes the Silverbacks decide to make Hanover Park their "home base."
Most rugby training environments and amateur clubs are not comprehensive enough to prepare athletes for the next level, Rasmus said.
"(We) create supplementary training for those athletes who want to pursue national or professional opportunities," he said.
Rugby players from as near as Arlington Heights and as far as Fon du Lac, Wisconsin, participated in the camp, which ended Tuesday, Rasmus said.
Each day involved six hours of training to develop and refine fundamental skills. Participants also worked with professional players from the U.S. and abroad, including a current member of the U.S. women's national team and a former member of the Wales national team.
"They really give them a perspective on the game that is really difficult to (understand)," Rasmus said.
Rasmus described it as a "higher pressure" environment than what most participants had experienced.
"One of the biggest things American athletes have to adapt to is that rugby never stops," he said. "We really try to incorporate that in our training."
Athletes who complete the camp and show "resilience, communication skills and emotional intelligence" will be invited to year-round training and given resources to become a professional player.
"These camps are just the starting point for the top athletes in attendance," organizers said.