The Face and Future of Area Rugby

Rancho Cordova, CA (MPG)  |  Story and Photo by Shelly Lembke
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Nick Freitas collects forms from girls and boys from Williamson Elementary who are interested in signing up for the rugby program.

Nick Frietas is a coach, ambassador and all-round representative for area youth rugby. Freitas grew up near Auburn in Applegate. With a degree in fine arts, his wife, and fresh from the film industry, Freitas has returned to the area to spread his passion for rugby.

Artist and athlete, Freitas likes to stay creative and on the move. When it comes to unwinding, he still seems to stay in motion. “We love to go to the river, we like to hike, bike, swim, basically anything active. I also fancy myself and inventor and painter. Having a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) I like to experience as many art forms as I can. Athletes can be artists and artists can be athletes. Unfortunately, often our society forces kids to choose one or the other, which I feel is doing us all a disservice.”

Employed by Rugby NorCal, Freitas is Youth Development Officer for Sacramento Valley and his days are full. “I'm either chasing down leads for schools, sports clubs, churches, after school programs, etc. to help implement offering flag rugby in their program. I also help start leagues like the one about to start here in Rancho Cordova. My goal is to get as many kids as possible to play the game at least once. Sometimes I refer to myself as the Jonny Appleseed of Rugby.”

While Freitas wants to bring the sport to the whole area, Rancho Cordova is Ground Central for the group’s development of youth rugby. “Short term goals are to get flag leagues up and running through schools, parks and after school clubs such as Boys and Girls Club and YMCA,” said Freitas. “We are also offering for the first time in many years, youth rugby teams in Rancho Cordova. We are very excited about this. We will be offering a summer flag league and in the fall and winter we will have teams that will compete in the Rugby NorCal tackle league. We will have an under 10, under 12 and Middle School teams for both boys and girls.”

Keenly aware of Rancho Cordova’s sports legacy, he sees rugby as complementary to other established sports. “I want to build on that sports legacy. I have seen the caliber of athletes in this city and I believe we would become the next hot spot for professional rugby players. Fifteen of USA Rugby’s players are from Northern California. The national talent development already has their eyes out here, we just need to show them Rancho Cordova athletes. I also believe that Rancho Cordova can be a shining example of how rugby can help build positive community focused on working together.”

Freitas sees major possibilities (including college scholarships) for Rancho Cordova and the Sacramento area. “Ideally I want to see a school league and a competitive club. If we are talking 10-year plan I would like to see a professional rugby team in Rancho Cordova, which could be closer than you would think. Absolutely! The city of Glendale, CO [built] one of the nicest rugby stadiums in the country and because of this Glendale is called “Rugby Town USA.” I believe Rancho Cordova could show them what a “rugby town” really looks like.”

Acres of land at the former Mather Air Base have been leased from the county to build a world class rugby complex, spotlighting Rancho Cordova and Sacramento County as a sports destination. “Yes, the rugby complex will be an amazing addition to the City,” commented Freitas. “A huge benefit will be it bringing in the international rugby matches. USA Rugby is scouting for a new home and we could be a viable option for them, which would have a massive impact on the economy of the City. The complex will also offer a premier training facility for rugby players and teams from around the state.”

In the meantime, Freitas has more pressing concerns. While the reception from local cities, especially Rancho Cordova, has been warm, he appeals to teachers, students, parents and officials to get involved. A home field for kids is what he needs most. “Don’t worry we'll train you. But most of all right now we would love a little land. While the complex is being built, I’m trying to get a bit of land to set up an after-school rugby facility. This would be a place for kids of all ages to come after school, play, practice rugby, eat some healthy food and get assistance with homework. So. my call would go out to anyone who might have some land so we can build our little field of dreams for the kids.”

Fast paced, fun, and inclusive, rugby stresses safety, camaraderie, respect and teamwork, with studies showing far fewer injuries than “mainstream” sports, points out Freitas. For more information see www.rugbynorcal.org and www.lancerrugbyclub.org.