One thing Greg Norris wants people to know about Xavier High School–where he is a highly successful boys’ rugby coach–is that it doesn’t have rugby fields. The school has a dedicated weight room and a gym, complete with an on-staff strength and conditioning coach, but Norris’s team has to coordinate their schedule hour-by-hour with everybody else. The football team seemed to have the run of the lifting equipment when Straus News visited the school.
Norris, grinning knowingly, doesn’t worry about the lack of practice space. “We don’t get special treatment,” he quips, but that doesn’t stop his victorious boys from “doing well with what we have.” As he sees it, rugby is about “more than just the training. It’s what we bring to the game, the traditions.” It’s ineffable, in other words, and is the byproduct of rigorous athletic and academic standards that have persisted for generations. Norris himself is a biology teacher at the school, and makes sure to recruit freshmen to the sport (no matter their skill level or rugby experience) by the dozens.
Back in his office, Norris capably described how high performance on the pitch and in the classroom aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they’ve intermingled to set up his former rugby stars for post-grad success.
Namely, he noted that rugby fever doesn’t stop during undergrad, and that “for some of our better players, they end up going to play in good programs.” With the help of some memory-jogging from Dominic DeFalco and Eamonn Matthews–Xavier’s Athletic Director and Assistant Athletic Director, respectively, and both rugby alums–Norris gave a breakdown of where his former players have landed recently: three kids (including his former captain, Maseah Young) at St. Bonaventure, six or seven at Penn State, and one at Catholic University.
During Norris’s tenure alone, an additional twelve Xavier ruggers have headed to Cal Berkeley. “You can’t get in without the academics,” Norris said with a laugh, but he made sure to underline “that they’re going to play rugby.”
By collaborating with Xavier’s college counselors, Norris ensures that Xavier’s top-flight students don’t have to give up on the sport they love. Rugby, after all, is what he deems an “educational tool to build better men.”
Maseah Young, the aforementioned Xavier captain and current student at St. Bonaventure, encapsulates everything that Norris believes playing rugby can make possible. Highly reluctant to head to tryouts at first, after two weeks of practice Young had become a die-hard convert. “We just sharpened the blade,” as Norris puts it, concluding that Young is now a U18 All-American pick “with a full-ride to Bonnie’s.”
Of course, some of the lessons the boys receive during their time playing rugby for Xavier is intangible. For example, the team gets to travel internationally, where the boys discover that rugby is a sort of universal language. Ireland and the Netherlands have been pitstops, and Japan might even end up on the itinerary soon.
When reached for comment, Xavier President Jack Raslowsky emphasized that rugby is inextricable from its players’ educational journey: “Athletics are an extension of the classroom and the mission at Xavier. We want students to learn how to compete well, to show humility, to be good sportsmen, to be part of a team. For almost 50 years, Xavier rugby has been a great example of this. We are proud of our rugby alumni who have gone on to play in college and professionally--and equally proud of those who simply learned a new sport and developed a love of the game.”
Xavier High School, a Jesuit all-boys school located on W. 16th St. in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, opened its doors in 1847. John Larkin, a professor at St. John’s college and a Jesuit priest, was the school’s founder. The school boasts a wide range of extracurriculars for its students to pursue in addition to sports; some of many highlights include a darts club, a board game club, a philosophy and ethics club, and a hip-hop society.
Prominent and varied alums over the years have included the anchorman Al Roker, the associate Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia, the horror-thriller novelist F. Paul Wilson, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist Dave Anderson. Best-selling author Matthew Thomas (“We Are Not Ourselves”) is a tenured English teacher at the school.