Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Toledo Junior Celtics Taking Aim at the Top Again

There is a lot of rugby going on in Ohio, with a number of teams tucked up into the northwest section of the state. One young team is the Toledo Junior Celtics, a group created and run by a former college and current men's club player in David Carr.

The Junior Celtics are a young club that has seen success working with an unconventional formula. Rather than initially establishing one club in a city, Carr worked in conjunction with a teammate who was trying to put another team together in Michigan to plant the seeds for what would be the Junior Celtics.

"We began in 2012," Carr said. "I got together with another teammate of mine at Toledo who was starting a high school team in his city of Riverview, MI - near Detroit. He had eight kids and I had ten, so we joined together and played under the Down River Sharks in the Michigan DIII."

In the beginning, the two groups never practiced together due to issues with travel, so Carr worked on developing the team's back while his teammate formed the pack. The idea of developing two parts of one team separately might sound like a recipe for disaster to the general public, but Carr and his partner had the knowledge and the personnel necessary to make their plan work because Carr's players were generally faster and older while the other group were generally of the younger and larger variety. That year they made it to the second round of playoffs.

The early success only led to acceptance and notoriety in their community, growth and, eventually, a departure from their friends in Michigan. As this growth has happened, Carr's has primarily pulled players from a central talent pool, but hasn't turned any players away.

"Our team has grown from ten players the first season to 19, and then 26 last season," he said. "We hope to reach more than 30 this year and have a second side. Primarily all of my players come from one high school but sprinkled in are other school kids who also do not have a program."
A group photo of the Toledo Junior Celtics team. (Credit: Rugby Ohio)
A group photo of the Toledo Junior Celtics team. (Credit: Rugby Ohio)

After making playoffs in the team's first year, success continued for Carr's club. In the team's second season they made an appearance in the Final Four and narrowly lost to Brunswick, that year's winners who are now in Division I. Last year, in 2014, they reached the championship game and lost to the Saint Edward B side by another close margin. That year the Junior Celtics' players Elijah Todd and Michael Baldwin were among the top in try scoring and successful conversions in Division II, according to Rugby Ohio's Web site.

Over the years the Junior Celtics have experienced great success, each year inching closer and closer to a state title. This year, Carr aims to keep pushing his team forward and keep a focus on his players - a method that he believes will help his team reach their ultimate goal.

"We have the same expectations each year," he said. "We as coaches want to develop the kids, the game and show a sound product both on and off the field. We push to get these deserving kids to the next level and strive to get help, financially, to them. Finally, we are looking to bring home the championship this year. We have come very close already and the returning players are very hungry and dedicated to finally getting over that final step."

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Carr is looking to put a big match on the books on a big stage. He is currently looking at playing against Brunswick at BGSU one weekend. He is looking forward to putting his team in a big-game atmosphere on the big college stage.

Part of Carr's successful method might also be a result of the unique and valuable relationships he has developed with higher-level clubs in the area, proving it never hurts to have friends in high places.

"We have a great relationship with BGSU and Davenport's coaches, who try to come to one or two events - games or practices - each year and take a look," he said.

A Junior Celtics player makes a run around the edge during the team's State Championship run.
A Junior Celtics player makes a run around the edge
during the team's State Championship run. (Credit: Facebook)
Like most coaches and administrators, Carr has faced some backlash in his rugby-related endeavors while developing his team and players; and especially considering the small amount of teams in the area, Carr has had to get creative with how he went about getting his kids opponents.

"As a non-school affiliated team challenges started with finances," he said "We would fundraise to help the kids pay their league dues and whatever we could to gain some gas money. It is harder for us to fill our schedule as there are only four teams in our league. We usually reach out to the Detroit, MI area teams to get some non-league matches early in the season. And we have an annual rivalry battle with Downriver who like us had enough kids the second year so we enjoy that game and look forward to bringing both programs back to the pitch together and play a game."

Despite the struggle to find competition sometimes, Carr has been able to work with his students to turn out some talented players who have gone on to play in higher levels of the sport.

"I have been blessed with great talent and athleticism," he said. "Teaching them how to be rugby players is a challenge, but when it clicks it is truly rewarding for all us coaches; and when they take that to the next level I truly become as proud as a parent of the kids. We have had a few kids intermingle with the men’s team after graduating high school. This past season saw the best result, with one former player going to play for Notre Dame College in Cleveland."

Consecutive runs in playoffs, playing big matches on college campuses and sending former players to top rugby programs in the Midwest - for Carr this is only the beginning of a tradition for his club as well as the sport in the city.

"We were able to start a new team with us in our area in 2013, and this upcoming 2015 campaign we have one team back and may add a second team this upcoming year," Carr said. "In five years I would love to see a total of eight teams in this area - currently we are at five, possibly six, for 2015 - so I think that is doable."

To Carr, continued support and growth from men’s and college clubs  is necessary to help ensure that rugby keeps growing in popularity. Down the line, he hopes players will come back to help with budding programs in the future.

Those looking for more information on the Toledo Junior Celtics, should go to the team's Facebook page.

1 comment:

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