Rugby is a growing sport in Tennessee as well as the rest of the country, and the evidence for a growing interest corresponds to its popularity as a club sport in college.
At the University of Tennessee, rugby is classified as a club sport that does not have scholarships connected directly to the university. In contrast, privately funded scholarships can be awarded by alumni and other outside sources.
Ben Schwartz, a four-year player on the Bearden rugby team, has been chosen as the first ever high school recipient of the Volunteer Scholarship, which was previously an award for current Tennessee rugby players.
This year, however, the scholarship has shifted its mark to incoming college freshmen.
“The Volunteer Scholarship has been around for a number of years, but this year they decided to redo how they select the winners of it,” Bearden assistant Coach Ethan Rosenblum said. “In the past, it was for young men who had been associated with the UT rugby team through their freshman year going into their sophomore year, while also playing at the high school level in Tennessee.
“This year they have redone that and will give it to incoming freshmen who have played [high school] rugby in Tennessee; Ben will be the first recipient of that.”
Coach Marty Bradley, Bearden’s and also UT’s head rugby coach, directly awarded the scholarship to Schwartz.
“My coach [who is] also UT’s coach chooses people who he thinks deserve it or who will be good for UT rugby,” Schwartz said. “He just told me a couple of weeks ago that he wanted to give it to me.
“I was the first person ever to receive this scholarship and I felt really blessed to have my coach respect me that much to give me the scholarship.”
The volunteer scholarship covers all rugby expenses, including gear and fee waiver. In addition to this, there is a $500 stipend that can go to schooling.
Schwartz has already been accepted to Tennessee and will study either industrial or mechanical engineering.
Years ago, it looked that the road to this scholarship may have been hard to imagine. Bearden’s rugby program was starting from ground roots; however, it has developed and improved every year.
“When I started, we really were not a big program,” Schwartz said. “I think as someone who has played all four years and started every game except one gives you a background to help others.
“It helps the progression of the sport at Bearden.”
As for this year, the Bulldogs finished third place in the entire state for the sevens rugby division in the fall. As for the spring fifteens season, the Bulldogs finished second place in the Smoky Mountain Athletic Conference behind South Doyle before losing to Oakland on Saturday in the state semifinals.
“This has probably been one of our most successful seasons,” junior Tommy Lane said.
A major reason that this season and also the seasons beforehand have been so successful is because of great leadership. Leadership and hard work on and off the field has ultimately led Schwartz to a major achievement.
“I think Ben is a great recipient for the scholarship,” Coach Rosenblum said. “Ben is a great leader on the field and we want him to make a lot of our decisions; he is like our quarterback.
“He really rallied our guys in the fall and led us single-handedly to third place in the state by [organizing] not only practice but also other team activities away from the field.”