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Black and Blue Rugby

 

By DILLON TABISH The Daily Inter Lake

There couldn't have been a more fitting person to score the first points in Flathead Valley Youth Rugby history. Out of a brown cloud of dust and a pile of mashed-together bodies, 17-year-old Max Himsl emerged with the ball and dove over the goal line at Hillcrest Field off Whitefish Stage Road. The "try" - equivalent to a touchdown in football - was the first ever score for the upstart Flathead Valley squad and it came in the Montana Youth Rugby Association season opener against Hamilton on Saturday. The team of local high school aged kids, known as the Black and Blue, were winless and scoreless in their first season last year and never hosted a game. On Saturday that changed as a crowd of family, friends and rugby enthusiasts gathered to watch the only scrum in town these days. Head coach Bob Foley started the youth program - which now has 25 players from Flathead and Glacier high schools and Stillwater Christian School - last April along with Dave Reese and Rich Lapp. The idea for the team, as well as the Black and Blue namesake, came from the man considered by many to be the one who brought rugby to the valley - Dave Himsl. Years ago, Himsl started the Moose's men's adult team. It was always a dream of Himsl's to get a program started for kids in high school, but a year and a half ago he lost a battle to cancer before he could see it happen. In his honor, Foley and others followed through and established the Black and Blue. On Saturday, Max, son of Dave, did his family proud and muscled in the memorable score. "It was wonderful, it really was," Max's mother Susan Himsl said of the try. "It's special to me. It was my husband's passion and my son shares that passion." The Black and Blue finished with two more scores on Saturday but came up short, 25-17. Second-year player Dalton Hagen had the two other tries for Flathead Valley. "It was a start but we've got a lot to learn," Foley said. "We did score three times today, unfortunately they scored four, but it was a good start. "Our goal is to teach the kids how to play rugby and how to be part of a team. Hopefully they get a little better every week," he added. The Black and Blue are a talented mix of high school wrestlers, football and basketball players along with a few who haven't played an organized sport recently. "Not too many people know the sport too well and it's just fun to get out there and do something different," Hagen said. Hagen has played football but prefers rugby for one distinct reason. "I just like the physical contact and all the hitting compared to football, where there's still hitting and all the practices are kind of different. Here it's just hitting and going and hitting. I like how it doesn't stop. It just keeps going on and on." Ryan Burrington is in his second year with the team and remembers being a wary when he first stepped on the field at Hillcrest. "At first I was (nervous) because of the whole no pads thing, but then we got out to practice and played our first game and I loved it," he said. For Susan Himsl, who teaches at Flathead, she's happy to see that players like Burrington and Hagen have found a sport that they've embraced. "There's a lot of kids who aren't really involved in a lot of the other school sports and (with rugby) they're finding their niche, and that's important to a lot of these guys. It really, really is," she said. Plus, she can see the sport that her late husband loved so very much carry on with her son.

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