Lee Kelly, who helped construct Gonzaga right into a rugby energy, dies at 72

Among the many highschool rugby hamlets that populate the prep sports activities panorama, few have advanced into kingdoms. The game’s violent notion and relative lack of recognition in the US could make for an uphill battle. It may be tough securing faculty assist, and a few youngsters are reluctant to commerce pads and penalty kicks for rucks and mauls.

Regardless of these obstacles, Lee Kelly constructed not only a aggressive program, however what some contemplate the nation’s finest, reworking D.C.’s Gonzaga Faculty Excessive right into a perennial title contender. Kelly, who received 4 nationwide rugby championships on the I Road faculty, died at 72 on Aug. 31 after a battle with prostate most cancers.

“Gonzaga rugby is pretty much synonymous with consistent excellence,” mentioned Alex Goff, founding father of the Goff Rugby Report, which covers American highschool and faculty rugby. “If you ask almost anybody at any time in the last 10 to 15 years, ‘Name me the top teams in the country,’ they’re going to have Gonzaga on that list, and that is a direct reflection of the energy and the love of the game from Lee.”

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For Kelly’s son Connor, it’s not straightforward to separate the coach from the daddy. Lee Kelly made some extent to observe his sons from sport to sport, discovering alternatives to teach them on the sphere, the courtroom and the diamond. That customized led him to Gonzaga in 2000, when Kelly confirmed as much as his oldest son Brendan’s rugby apply providing his providers.

Kelly was hardly just a few guardian off the road. He began for the College of Maryland rugby staff within the Nineteen Seventies and later helped set up a number of native males’s and youth groups.

In 2000, Gonzaga’s rugby staff had simply 30 gamers. The staff had begun as a membership fashioned by a bunch of scholars in 1988, and it managed just one win in its first two seasons. Six years later, it grew to become a varsity sport.

When Kelly grew to become its director of rugby in 2002, he sought to raise this system by proactively recruiting college students and coaches, and by touring past state and nationwide borders to reveal his gamers to constant, high quality competitors.

Throughout Kelly’s tenure, Gonzaga rugby noticed a spike in curiosity and in wins.

In 2009, Kelly tapped former U.S. girls’s rugby assistant Peter Baggetta to function the staff’s head coach. The next 12 months, Gonzaga grew to become nationwide runner-up, the college’s finest end to this point. By 2011, practically one out of each 5 Gonzaga college students — round 180 out of 900 — performed rugby, and in 2014, the college received its first nationwide championship, the primary of three consecutive and 4 complete titles.

“Lee’s a legend,” mentioned Dante Lopresti, a former staff captain who received three nationwide titles at Gonzaga. “He just had a presence. I don’t know how to explain it. He’s always there for you. He’s very loving, very caring, and he wants you to be a better man off the field. That just speaks to the type of character the guy was. He is Gonzaga rugby, and everyone knows it.”

Underneath Kelly, this system counts a number of skilled athletes amongst its ranks of alumni, together with former NFL cornerback Johnson Bademosi. Ben Cima, a onetime All-Met kicker for Gonzaga’s soccer staff, performed for Main League Rugby’s Seattle Seawolves and the U.S. nationwide staff. Cima’s former highschool teammate Reggie Corbin starred as an all-Large Ten operating again at Illinois earlier than becoming a member of the USFL’s Michigan Panthers. Lopresti and Jack Iscaro play for MLR’s Outdated Glory DC.

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Off the pitch, former gamers and coaches described Kelly as a “force of nature” who taken care of these in his prolonged household.

Kelly was the one who despatched messages of consolation to his gamers’ dad and mom after their dad and mom died. He as soon as invited one in all his coaches to drive to Maryland with him to verify in on a former participant institutionalized for substance abuse. Kelly additionally served as a member of the Boys Excessive College Rugby Nationwide Championships Committee, the place he dialed into conferences after rounds of therapy and shortly earlier than his demise, based on Goff, who additionally serves on that committee.

“That was typical Lee, saying, ‘Dammit, I’m still going to be involved,’” Goff mentioned. “Our next meeting, I half-expect him to call. It’s like, ‘Lee, you’re not supposed to be on this Earth anymore.’ And he’d say, ‘I don’t care.’”

That lifestyle, one in service of others, is among the issues Connor Kelly will bear in mind most about his father.

Kelly’s son is barely in kindergarten, however Kelly is hoping to observe in his father’s footsteps and sometime begin a rugby staff on the faculty. If he does, he intends to channel his father’s philosophy.

“The biggest thing is it’s not just about going out and winning games,” Kelly mentioned. “It’s about creating something more than that. It’s about creating something where people at that school — or whatever it may be — want to be involved with it. Where it can be something that you look back and it’s a big part of your life and you had some fun with it.”

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