Rugby explodes into season

Ron Peterson awaits drill instruction from Deane Shepard at Pendergast Regional Park. - Kipp Robertson/ Staff photo
Ron Peterson awaits drill instruction from Deane Shepard at Pendergast Regional Park.
— image credit: Kipp Robertson/ Staff photo

While sitting in his vocational class, Ron Peterson mentioned how much he would enjoy being on a rugby team.

The North Kitsap senior does not play on a high school sports team and has never played rugby.

In an act of what seemed to be fate, the same day Peterson hoped to play on a rugby team, he was signed up.

“The same day I mentioned how much I wished there was a legit rugby team, they had a booth at North,” Peterson said.

Peterson is now one of three North Kitsap students who have joined the Kitsap Renegades and Kitsap Grenades; a male and female high school team.

The teams, coached by Nathan Jensen and Deane Shepard, are open to high school students from any school in Kitsap and any body type.

Shepard, who typically does not see many North Kitsap students on the team because of the drive out to Bremerton, said he likes to see a variety of body types on the field. What is one person’s weakness, is another’s strength.

“Very few people stop playing once they get into it,” Shepard said.

The coaches are still recruiting players, and Shepard said he would like to see more football players out on the field.

“Football players make great rugby players and rugby players make great football players,” he said.

For those unsure if they wish to join, Shepard said students need a mouth guard and soccer shoes to play.

“I was surprised to find out how big rugby acutally is around here,” Peterson said. To him rugby is “kind of exotic.”

Tackles and tiaras

On weekdays, Miss Silverdale Brittney Rusinski dons her sparkling tiara and smiles wide.

On Sunday, she goes the other direction, lacing up cleats, biting on a mouth guard and jumping into the muddy center of rugby scrums.

“My mom was shocked,” said Rusinski, a junior at Central Kitsap High School. “She came to our first match and she never expected that from me.”

One of Rusinski’s close friends and teammate on the Kitsap Grenades female rugby team is Hannah Wood, a junior at Bremerton High School who also earned pageant honors when she was named Miss Kitsap Jan. 8.

Wood and Rusinski dutifully report for public appearances. But when they compete, they gear up on the grassy fields at Pendergast Regional Park in Bremerton.

“Usually people see pageant girls as people who just want to wear makeup and put on pretty dresses, but it’s more than that,” Wood said. “I can do both things well because I love doing both. We’re destroying the stereotype, if you enjoy doing something, go for it.”

Their parents eventually supported the decision, leading to a new chapter for Wood and Rusinski. Neither student-athlete has suffered an injury since joining the rugby club.

Wood, who has already competed in softball, volleyball, soccer and basketball, said her curiosity led to joining the rugby squad.

For the girls, rugby has offered them more than just camaraderie, or bragging rights for playing a brutal sport not known to normally include girls.

“I thought it was too crazy and I would never do anything like that,” Wood said. “I found out I was tough, and it’s cool to find that out about yourself, that you can do anything.”

The two pageant winners are entering their second season with the Grenades, led by Shephard.

“The reality is women rugby players are just like any other athletes,” said Shephard, who has since noticed similarities between the two. “The requirements for pageants and rugby are the same—leadership, getting along with others, engaging with the community and having a certain level of confidence. I look for these things in my young high school athletes, and Brittney and Hannah meet those standards.”

Rusinski said she became a member of the Grenades to engage in something new and meet friends. The teamwork in itself, Rusinksi said, is what makes every match and practice so fulfilling.

“When we win in the snow, hail and rain, sometimes a few players short, but knowing that we all worked together, that’s one of the best feelings in the world,” she added.

Following each rugby match, the Grenades and their opponent share a feast. The home team does the cooking. Wood and Rusinski each joined the club in January 2010, and said they never thought they would share these moments together, like singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” while running laps.

The two crown winners are also uniquely connected by their roles on the field. Rusinski is a scrum-half while Wood is the team’s fly-half. The scrum-half normally places the ball into the scrum, while the fly-half usually calls set moves.

And nothing bonds this team together like a scrum, the start of play in rugby when teams crouch side by side, lock arms and fight for the ball.

“You always have to be there for each other in the scrum when you’re combining strengths,” Wood said. “You have to have that bond and that support, or else you’re going to fall apart on the field.”

­­— Kipp Robertson contributed to this story.

Want to join the team? Girl's Team contact: Coach Deane A Shephard- (360) 440-4925 or Boy's Team contact: Coach Nathan Jensen- (360) 649-6767 or

Practice is at the upper soccer field at Pendergast Regional Park 1199 Union Ave, Bremerton, on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Uniform: soccer shoes, heavy weight long sleeved shirt, heavy weight sweat pants, and fitted mouth piece.

Hannah Wood (left) and Brittney Rusinski.

Mike Baldwin/

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