Rainier Plateau Junior Rugby prepares for fourth season of competition

Louie Henson was born to play rugby.

Although the Auburn High School junior is turning out for the Rainier Plateau Junior Rugby Association this season for just the second year, the rugged sport is in his blood.

“I’ve really only been playing for a year, but I’ve been learning since I was 2 or 3,” Henson said.

Henson’s love for rugby comes from his father, Gerry Henson, who wrestled and played rugby at Western Washington University, and was one of the founding members of the 1973 Chuckanut Bay Rugby.

Louie Henson got his first taste of the sport at age 7 on a family trip to Ireland.

“We have some family there, so I played a little with my cousin,” he said. “It was crazy. I was used to football. It was a lot more running than I thought. I didn’t realize how hard it really was until then. They went full speed. They treated me like I’d been playing with them my whole life.”

Back in the U.S., Henson never got the chance to play organized rugby. Instead, he took to the gridiron, where he played for Auburn Junior Football, and is a member of the Auburn High football team.

His first contact with Rainier Plateau and its founder, Andy Ramsay, came when he was a freshman.

“Coach Ramsey showed up at lunch, and I started talking to him,” Hensen said. “I don’t know why I didn’t turn out that year. But the next year, my sophomore year, I decided that rugby was my sport and I should probably get into it now.”

Henson signed up with the organization, which features players from Auburn, Bonney Lake, Sumner, Enumclaw and Buckley.

The organization offers a competitive team for players up to 18 years old, as well as instruction for players as young as 14.

The cost of playing for Rainier Plateau is $175 per player. The program offers scholarships and reduced fees.

The team will practice 6:30-8:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays beginning Jan. 5 at the White River Alternative School in Buckley, where the team will play games, as well as at Sunset Chev Stadium in Sumner.

In just four short years, the organization has found success in spreading the word about rugby and inspiring kids.

“We’ve got three kids playing rugby in major colleges,” Ramsay said.

Alumni Colin Pearson, Aaron Carr and Jake Christiansen are playing at Washington State University, the University of Washington and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., respectively.

For Louie Hensen, the league is a chance to finally play the sport he’s loved since he was a child.

“I’d been learning the sport my whole life. It was just putting it into practice,” he said. “It didn’t take long to get confident and learn how to communicate with the guys. But the toughest part is the running. My dad told me every day after practice that you have to run. I never did, and that killed me at first.”

Henson has applied many of his football skills to rugby.

“Unlike football, it’s constant,” Henson said. “It never stops. Just for a few seconds here and there.

“There is a lot of strength involved, and the footwork is important also.”

Henson and other members of the organization are actively recruiting players.

“Some guys just aren’t interested, but I try to get any athlete to come play,” Henson said.

Henson even delivers an appealing sales pitch to big men.

“If it’s an offensive lineman, I tell them you get to carry the ball,” said Henson, who is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound center on Auburn’s football team.

“Anyone can score. If it’s one of the smaller backs, I tell them you can really show us how fast you are because you don’t have to wear pads.”

Calum Ramsay, coach Ramsay’s son and a senior at Bonney Lake High School, has been playing for four years.

“If you enjoy football, then you’d enjoy this. It’s very similar,” he said. “There is the contact element and the big team element, so that seems to appeal to a lot of the players.

“And the fitness also helps, in my opinion. Every person in rugby is running the whole time”

Whether it’s for conditioning for the football season or just for the love of the sport, Coach Ramsay said there are many reasons to take up rugby.

“Just come out and try it,” he said. “Come to a few practices. There is no commitment for trying it.”

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