Pelham Rugby Alumni Discuss College Rugby

Recent PHMS alumni gathered back at the High School this past January 11th to discuss the benefits of playing Rugby in College. Their aim was to give future college applicants—and their parents—some feedback on their college experience and why the sport of Rugby had helped them navigate through their freshman years.

Pelham Rugby Alumni. L to R: Joe Nelson, Matt Scampoli, Luke Persanis, North Westall, Moises Soto & Shane McDonald

The six-man panel included students from a range of colleges, including Ivy League and in and out-of-state public and private universities. While some panelists were on athletic scholarships–playing rugby at the highest college level–others had received academic scholarships due their involvement with the sport. Others still were happy playing rugby at a social level, self-funded and as a club sport. What they all had in common was a passion for rugby and the realization that playing it in high school had provided them with a skill set, both on and off the field that had served them well at college.

“I’m really looking at the things that rugby gives you and you don’t realize it,” noted North Westall, a sophomore at St. Bonaventure’s in upstate NY. “All these guys up here are my really good friends.  I have sixty guys at school now if I can call on for anything… even at 3am in the morning.”

Other students stressed the importance of having structure in their college routine.

“If you have so much work that you have to get done and you’re stressed out and going crazy…” said Luke Persanis, a freshman at Delaware. “… knowing that you have practice–that you have two hours at night that can go run around outside with over forty or fifty other guys–it totally clears your mind and relaxes you.”

“It does give so much structure to your schedule,” said Matt Scampoli, a state champion at Pelham before playing rugby at Binghamton. “You get your work done on time so that you can play as hard as you work.”

Unlike traditional college sports however, the students found that there was some flexibility their in schedule.

“School work is more important… but if I miss a practice I can come back in.” said Joe Nelson, a sophomore at Cornell. “When you know you have something to do, you get your work done faster and more efficiently.”

“Having the challenge of going to practice every day and becoming a rugby player was a lot of fun and very rewarding,” said Shane McDonald, the only panel member who took rugby up after high school and now plays at Binghamton.

The boys did relate that there were some sacrifices to playing rugby. “There’s a 48 hour policy at my school [of not going out prior to a game], mused Moses Soto who is playing D3 rugby at Franklin & Marshall.”

The boys also answered questions on the availability of financial aid. Some received athletic scholarships to play rugby and some received academic scholarships. Moderator Matt Persanis made the point that… “There are a lot of kids who are getting scholarships. They aren’t called [rugby] scholarships, but without rugby, they aren’t getting them.”

A question from a parent in the audience asked how students could find what opportunities were available.

“If there is a school you are looking at, just ask,” said Persanis. “One of the advantages of being around a long time is that you start to meet people…. If we don’t know them there’s a good chance that we know people who do know them, so talk to me before you apply.”

Westall agreed. “One of the things I learned is that if there is a school that is interested [in you] talk to the coach. You can say, ‘I’d love to come here but money is an issue,’ and he’ll talk to the financial aid department. It helps… it really helps.”

To view a video of the event visit the Pelham Rugby YouTube page here.


Note: February 27, Pelham Rugby is holding a college fair for all Metro NY rugby players and parents. There will be a lot of good schools there: Already confirmed are: Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, University of Delware, Iona, Fordham, Stony Brook, St Bonaventure, West Point, St Joe’s, with many more yet to commit. It is free to all Pelham players and their families.


“One of the things I’m most proud of for the program is not necessarily the wins and losses… it’s the kind of people we are producing. And the success they are having when they leave.”