Brad Rockwood with former Marauder Tayler Schussler (above).
by Amanda Milewski, photography by Nikola Tzenov
After almost 30 years, Carroll’s sole rugby program is still like one big family.
Back in 1845, when student William Webb Ellis of Rugby School in Warwickshire, England, picked up the ball during a soccer game and ran down the field with it, the game of rugby was born.
It was only fitting then, that when Carroll County resident Brad Rockwood suggested to the West Carroll Rec Council that they consider adding a rugby program, they told him to run with it.
That was in 1995, and the West Carroll Marauders have been playing strong ever since.
Something for everyone
Rockwood, who started playing in 1993 for Westminster Area Rugby, explained that in addition to himself, his daughter, who was 8 years old at the time, wanted to play rugby, too. The Marauders have fostered a family atmosphere ever since.
“There were three other teams back then — the Marauders in Carroll County, a team out of Timonium in Baltimore County and a team out of Severna Park in Anne Arundel County,” said Rockwood. “We did the best we could seeing to kids of appropriate ages played against each other.”
As the sole rugby program in the county, the Marauders have attracted players from all corners of Carroll as well as surrounding counties, and even a few from Pennsylvania.
The Marauders have two hand-touch co-ed teams for ages 7 and under through 16 and under, and middle and high school girls and boys tackle teams that are organized by age and grade.
“Our league matches are mostly against other Maryland teams for our youth, middle school and high school boys,” Rockwood said. “Our middle and high school girls play a more regional schedule, including teams from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and New Jersey.”
In addition to all of the benefits of youth sports, the Marauders program is a way to expand horizons, both literally and figuratively. Rockwood said that teams have traveled all over the country for tournaments and national championships as well as to Canada, England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.
The teams have different seasons, some playing in spring, summer or fall. The spring middle and high school seasons feature 15 players on each team and the youth summer and fall seasons are for seven players on each team.
In addition to being part of the West Carroll Rec Program/Carroll County Department of Rec and Parks, the Marauders club is a member of the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Union, under the direction of and governed by a division of USA Rugby.
The Marauders’ advantage
Although there are many metrics to gauge a sports program’s success, perhaps the best way to gauge the impact of a program is what athletes do both on and off the field, and after they’ve left and have the chance to apply what they learned to their daily lives.
Do the players continue to participate in the sport? Do they continue to embody the ideals of the program? Do they continue to be a team player — at play and at work? Do they win and lose graciously? Strive to continue to improve?
Former Marauder Tayler Schussler checks all those boxes and then some.
Schussler, a Westminster native, played in the Marauders high school program. “It was my first ever rugby team and experience with rugby as a sport, and it changed my life for the better in so many ways,” she said.
Schussler played for many select side teams, the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union, the Mid-American Rugby Football Union and Maryland selects during her high school years. She then went on to play NCAA Division I rugby at Quinnipiac University, where she helped the Bobcats win three national championships and was a two-time collegiate All-American. She also played for the New Haven Old Blacks in Connecticut before returning to Westminster where she helps manage her family’s landscape contracting company, Schussler’s Brooke Valley Farm Nursery.
In addition to her career, she also returned to the club that gave her a start in the sport she loves so much. She began coaching with the Marauders as an assistant coach for the middle school team in 2019 and will start her second season as the head coach of the high school girls program this year.
She had just moved home to work full time and “was really missing the game and all the friends and fun I had within it when my old high school coach, Brad Rockwood, called and asked if I had any interest in getting involved with the program again,” Schussler said.
“I owe my rugby career and love for the game to the Marauder club and wanted to give back in some way, so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it,” she confirmed.
“Coaching is a way for me to still be a part of the game and help others find the magic that I found in rugby and hope that it can give all the opportunities it gave to me to them as well.”
As a former Marauder herself, Schussler brings a unique perspective to coaching. She knows firsthand how to nurture a love for the game as well as what it takes to be a positive member of a team.
“The only thing rugby athletes need is to show up and be willing to work. Anybody can play rugby; the skills and physicality can be taught and learned and practiced. As long as you have a good attitude and are willing to try new things and listen, you can play rugby and you can play it well,” she said.
A family affair
For confirmation that everybody can play rugby, talk to Carolee and Matt Kinloch. All four of their children have played or currently play for the Marauders.
Their oldest son played from third grade through his senior year in high school and plays on the University of Maryland club rugby team. Their younger son played from third grade through 10th grade. Both boys also refereed during high school.
Their oldest daughter played from age 5 through her sophomore year of high school, and their youngest daughter, who also started playing at age 5, plays for the Marauders U16 touch program.
All four also played other sports at rec, travel, club, high school, and college levels including gymnastics, wrestling, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. To say the Kinlochs have experience with youth sports would be an understatement.
The Kinlochs know well the cost in time and money of youth sports and contend that rugby is a good option when it comes to both. “Rugby is much more affordable,” said Carolee. “Youth rugby is equal to or less than other rec-level sports and tackle rugby is less expensive than most travel sports and a fraction of the cost of club sports.”
“Any sport is a commitment,” Matt said, “but rugby is less than that of travel or club sports. Youth touch rugby is similar to rec sports but more relaxed and family-friendly. At the tackle level, it is more of a commitment but not as demanding as [some of the other travel sports] our children participated in. The nice thing about rugby,” he continued, “is when players want to invest more, there are opportunities to do so.”
That family-friendly atmosphere is another selling point. The Kinlochs explained that for home games, everyone pitches in. “In rugby, the host team provides food for opposing teams but the Marauders make it an event for the whole family with hot dogs, snacks, and drinks for everyone. It’s like a picnic. The kids love it so much, they will often finish eating and then organize friendly matches with anyone that is willing to keep playing,” Carolee said.
A bright future
If the involvement of Schussler and the Kinlochs (their oldest son also coaches in the Marauders’ program, first as an assistant and now as a head coach), is any indication, the program is in good hands.
Rockwood wholeheartedly agreed. “With the people we have running the program and the families that are involved, the Marauders’ future looks great,” he noted.
Because a number of coaches, parents, and players have grown up through the program as Schussler did, the family feel of the club remains strong.
“The Marauders club is the most welcoming group of people, from the board members, to the alumni to the current players, the feeling of being wanted and accepted for exactly who you are is a priority that we want everyone to feel. We offer a space to learn, grow and challenge yourself and to learn how to do it with others. I think that growing up with the game (as many of our coaches and members have) gives us a unique perspective of the traditional and the new wave and how to blend them to include the best parts of both,” Schussler said.
“Try it!” is Matt Kinloch’s advice. “Every family we convinced to give it a try fell in love with the sport. I see more smiles as players come off the field at rugby games than any other youth sport. The kids just have so much fun and with all of the sports they have played, rugby is the only one that they would get upset when practice is rained out.”
A player who is bummed when practice is canceled may be the ultimate measure of success.