BOZEMAN — Since launching in 2022, the Montana Institute of Sport has focused its mission on advancing the growth and development of athletics across the state by specifically catering to underserved sports.
Its first initiative as a non-profit is the growth of youth rugby across Montana, which started with the addition of the Gallatin Wranglers this spring.
“I like being able to tackle people without them having protection," U-14 forward Evan Rodgers chuckled.
Many of the athletes at Tuesday's practice echoed the same sentiments, but for most of these first-year players, they've learned there's a lot more to it that makes it unique.
“Like you watch it and you just see the ball getting thrown around and you kind of think to yourself, okay, no forward passes, but then you actually start playing and you learn there's a lot of different rules surrounding rugby," U-19 flanker Treyten Kimm explained.
With ages ranging from 11 to 19, the Wranglers put cleats in the ground for the first time this past February and are now one of five youth programs across the state.
Other areas with teams include Bitterroot, Missoula, Helena, and the Flathead Valley.
“Our approach really this year, in general, is basics," Wranglers head coach Eric Hirsch explained. "It is a game that is physical and training them from the start to be able to play it well and then execute those skills to keep themselves safe is really an important aspect to the game in general and especially when you're talking about with youth.”
USA Rugby’s Malon Al-Jiboori is one of several guest coaches that have paid the Wranglers a visit this spring, and as an athlete that was once in their shoes learning the game in a state where rugby was just evolving, his advice was simple.
"Just because you’re from a small time doesn't mean you can't make it because like I said to the boys before I came in here, three Eagles national team players came from my high school," Al-Jiboori shared. "We really only had five teams, so it can happen it just takes a little bit of hard work.”
The Wranglers’ inaugural season wraps up later this month.
For more information on how to join Gallatin Valley’s first-ever youth rugby team, click here.