Tuesday, September 16, 2014

USA Touch Rugby Growing, Looking To World Cup


When most people think of touch rugby they are thinking of something they do socially on the weekend to stay fit. However, for OJ Hawea touch rugby is so much more. As the head of USA Touch Rugby OJ has built an organization serving hundreds of participants in many states as well as submitting a team to the World Cup. We sat down with OJ to talk about the program and much more.

TIAR: What is USA Touch Rugby?

OJ: USA Touch is the governing body of Touch Football in the United States. We are the National Touch Association of the Federation of International Touch (FIT) for the United States. USA Touch first attended the Touch World Cup in Hawaii in 1995 when Lee Thompson made contact with Derek Downing of the Del Mar Hoods in San Diego to participate in the World Cup in Hawaii. The USA players had barely heard of the game and had 6 months to prepare to play the best teams in the world. Since then the US has attended the World Cup which is held every four years. We host a National Championship each year where teams play in 3 different divisions. Various affiliates host their own tournaments with the Portland Hunters having a long standing annual event at the end of July

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TIAR: Why touch?

OJ: Why not?? Touch Football or Touch Rugby is the number one participation sport in New Zealand and Australia where the full contact version is huge. It’s so popular and great for skills and fitness that the New Zealand Rugby Union and The NRL from Australia have partnered with the FIT governing bodies in their respective countries to establish a better player base and harmonious schedule. You can play the game as soon as you can run and go until you can no longer walk. Most competitions have divisions all the way up to over 50’s where each player must be over 50 to play in that division. The game has something for all. From youth through high level competition and through social, Touch is an affordable game that takes nothing more than friends or family and a ball. The most exciting division throughout the Touch world right now is the mixed division where 3 women and 3 men must play on the same team. Where else can you find that type of diversity?

TIAR: Where do you currently have programs?

OJ: We are currently growing all over the country and constantly looking for new affiliates. We have programs from Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington DC, New York as well as several more in Florida, including Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando.

TIAR: Describe your player pathway? How do you run camps and the national tournament in Florida?

OJ: Player pathways to Nationals are as simple as joining a team in one of our areas and learning the systems that FIT rules require. It’s a little more strategic and systematic than a back yard game of ‘touch’. Learning those nuances is always the most difficult part for players coming over, but once they learn, they are always hooked. Our camps leading into Nationals this year have been mostly about teaching the basic systems to as many people as possible prior to getting to Nationals at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports. We have held camps in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Portland, Orlando and San Diego so far and will finish with one more in Phoenix on the 19th and 20th of September. From here we have identified players who we will select for the Touch World Cup in Australia in April next year. As a smaller organization, the coaches of the squads have traveled to these camps and will make selections at our Nationals on October 10th and 11th.

TIAR: There is a touch World Cup in Australia. What are your plans for the team?

OJ: We have been planning on taking at least the 3 open squads since we left the last World Cup in Scotland in 2011. Open being that any player of any age can play on those sides. The squads would be Men’s, Women’s and Mixed (3 of each sex on the field at all times). Because of our growth, we will also take a Men’s 30 squad and a Men’s 40 squad. Each player in those teams would be in the ‘senior’ World Cup and would obviously have to be over the age of their team division to play

TIAR: What are your plans for the future?

OJ: We plan on growing this game and the United States into a global powerhouse. We have some of the best athletes in the world and have the best resources to develop this sport. My dream would be to have cities all around the country having weekly leagues just as slow pitch softball has. From those local leagues we would be able to pull players into a national event that would compete with the larger playing nations. But all dreams have to start with a basic concept. The immediate plan is to get each affiliate working in the same systems as the more established areas to grow their own areas and support that growth. From there each affiliate can be self sustaining and then we can focus on the next group who comes along. The next major focus is growing our referee experience. We have had some great support from the Federation sending officials to our events and it’s time we were able to hold that in our own country.

TIAR: Describe your new relationship with Canterbury?

OJ: Our deal with Canterbury is a major milestone for USA Touch. In this relationship we have a globally recognized brand that ever rugby aficionado knows about. One major struggle we have is that people don’t see ‘Touch’ the way we do. This relationship provides us with some muscle behind our objectives. It provides us with the marketing and materials to brand our name with theirs to promote this game. They will be the official provider for USA Touch gear for the next 3 years. This will include offering all kit gear for the World Cup in Australia next year as well as naming rights to the USA Touch Nationals. Our affiliates will be offered a discounted program to obtain custom uniforms from one central proven provider. My personal highlight is a co branded touch sized ball. Canterbury will offer these balls as the official USA Touch ball and have a one stop place for our affiliates to obtain these balls. As the touch ball is a different size to a normal rugby ball, it’s always been a matter of bringing balls in from New Zealand, Australia or the UK. Now we not only have a co branded ball, but they’re available on the Canterbury website.

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