GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport saw a unique sporting event that brought athletes from all over the region to compete on Saturday. They all met up on the beach, but it wasn't to play volleyball. These athletes came together for a rugby tournament. It was all to benefit a youth team that is the only one of its kind in the state.
It was a show of endurance and athleticism as the players ran up and down the beach with what looked like an oversized football. The game of rugby is very similar to its popular counterpart, but the players don't wear pads to protect themselves from hits. There are rules to prevent injury, but make no mistake; this game is not for the faint of heart.
"It's a passion of ours. Many of us older guys wanted to get back to the game," said Raymond Campion.
Campion helped create a youth league for players under the age of 19, known as the Mississippi Royals. It's the only high school age team in the state, but that's something Campion hopes will change.
"We're looking to promote the development of high school rugby, or youth rugby in this area," said Campion.
Six adult teams from across the South competed in this tournament, which helped raise funds for the Royals to go to Orlando, FL, this summer to play national and international teams. According to referee Alex Sharland, rugby is a sport that is more common in other areas.
"If you go to other parts of the country, it's deeper. It's played in middle school and high school," said Sharland.
The draw for many athletes is the fact that rugby isn't exclusive to a certain type of player. That's something that Nicholas Price likes about the game. He's been playing since the team's inception, and now he's the co-captain.
"I feel like rugby really has a space for everyone. I mean, if you look out here on the field, you've got players of all shapes and sizes out here, and there's a position for everyone to play. So, a lot of diversity on a rugby team," said Price.
Price says being a part of the state's first and only high school aged team is an honor, but he wants to see more interest. His hope is that people will just try it out. He says, once they do, they usually find that it's different than anything they've ever done before.
"That's really what gets you hooked on it," said Price.
The Mississippi Royals will be traveling to Orlando in the beginning of July to compete. To find out more about the team, call Raymond Campion (321) 626-3556.