It’s not the bone-jarring collisions, break-neck pace or rough and rugged play that sticks with rugby coach George Smartt. He only sees the smiles.
Both Warren County High School rugby teams will have a reason to be happy Thursday. Weather permitting, the groups will make their home debut at Nunley Stadium at 6 p.m.
The WCHS teams are set to face Spring Hill, with the boys team up first and the girls concluding the night. If it’s anything like the weeks of lead up to the first home games, Smartt expects to see lots of smiling faces.
“I think what makes coaching so fun is seeing how much the players enjoy it,” said Smartt, who has been involved with the rugby teams since they first debuted in 2015.
Even when it gets brutal, like last week during practice when a player rolled her ankle, the happiness lingers.
“We were working during practice and Caitlyn (Jerrell) went down and had to be helped off the field. Ebonie (Ross) and Aiden (Cary) were helping her and as she was coming off, Caitlyn was smiling ear-to-ear,” said Smartt. “You can’t script those moments. They love it.”
The teams have had their share of success, despite the area being relatively new to the sport. The WCHS girls team won the state championship in 2016 and has been competitive each year since.
The boys team battled with some of the state’s best last year and only seem to be strengthening in numbers. Coach Jonathan Smith can’t wait to see his boys team hit the field.
“We’re ready to go. I think everybody is excited to get to play,” said Smith.
If weather forces a postponement Thursday, the teams are already circling Saturday as a make-up date.
Thursday’s game will be the first of four times fans will get a chance to see rugby action in town. The teams also have home dates set for April 3, 9 and 12.
On Wednesday, April 3, the girls team will face Blackman at 6 p.m. and the boys will take on Rutherford in the second match of the night.
Both teams are set to face McMinn County April 9, with action kicking off at 5 p.m. The teams play their final home matches April 12 against Riverdale. Kickoff on senior night is set for 5:30 p.m.