Five years ago, rugby became a varsity sport at Saint Ignatius.
In those five seasons, the Rugby Cats have won three state championships and traveled to Ireland, Texas, and France.
In its sixth year of existence, Saint Ignatius rugby team will represent the United States of America in a prominent tournament featuring the best teams in the world, taking place in Cape Town, South Africa.
Following last year's 10-day trip to France, head coach Dan Arbeznik '00 figured on a quiet 2018 season for travel, planning to stay in Ohio with the exception of a national tournament in Kansas City.
That changed just before Thanksgiving. Representatives of Heyneke Meyer, the former coach of the Springboks (South Africa's national rugby union team) reached out to Arbeznik, extending an invitation to play in the first-ever World Schools Festival.
The tournament will bring together the best high school teams from across the world, including top programs from South Africa, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, England, and Argentina, along with the French and Italian national rugby teams. The Wildcats are currently the only American team set to participate in the tournament.
The trip also presents a unique learning experience for the Rugby Cats. The itinerary calls for a flight from the U.S. to Istanbul, with a 9-hour layover in Turkey. The Wildcats will take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Hagia Sofia and other landmarks in the historic city. Then, the Rugby Cats will fly to Cape Town, where the team will play in two matches, with opportunities to explore cultural and historic landmarks during free time. The parents and players will provide the funds to make it possible.
“This is an amazing opportunity for us,” Arbeznik said. “The trip presents a unique opportunity for our students to acquire a larger perspective on culture, history, and civilization. We want to teach our students to become more independent and more confident in life. Travelling abroad and immersing oneself a foreign culture is the perfect way to accomplish that.”
Global education, including through sports, is a significant part of a Saint Ignatius education. The school's global education initiatives include seven mission trips (to the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, etc.), the Irish Studies program, and other educational travel opportunities.
The Saint Ignatius Athletic Department has provided more frequent chances for travel in recent years. The lacrosse program plans to head to Southern California in the spring, the baseball team travels south every season, and the soccer program has traveled to places such as Denver in recent years. One team is also planning a trip overseas in the summer.
“Travel abroad through sports offers our student-athletes a wonderful opportunity to learn different cultures and expand students’ boundaries,” said Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick ’88. “Playing premier teams is great, but the goal of this type of trip is to expose our students to new experiences, ideas, and cultures, expanding their worldview along the way.”
A major benefit of the trip is the relatively low travel costs. The tournament hosts will provide lodging, food, and transportation in South Africa. Combined with the chance to see three continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa – the trip presents a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the student-athletes on the team.
The tournament will also offer a chance to train with some of the most famous and most talented rugby players from across the globe.
“We could not be more excited for this opportunity,” Arbeznik said. “We were originally not planning on traveling abroad this season, but this chance was too good to pass up. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for our students.”