Sports

Kentwood's Norris finds true love in coaching rugby

While Kentwood High School's Rex Norris is best known as coach of the Conk football team, his other true love is rugby.

He's been coaching the sport for longer than he's coached football, including coaching the U.S. men's team. He even met his wife while on the road coaching rugby. So when asked about his favorite moments from the game, it takes him a bit of time to get his thoughts together.

Many of his favorite moments are when teams he's coached have come back from major deficits, or simply didn't give up in the face of overwhelming odds.

When the Kent Crusader girls rugby team coached by Norris came back from a serious deficit in the second half of the 2013 national semifinals to win the match, "there wasn't a dry eye in the place," Norris says. "They (the opponent) had 500 people there cheering them on and we had three. They had 60 players we had 22. Our girls had only been playing three months and here we were in the national semifinals, and we finished second."

Norris has coached rugby for almost two decades since he arrived in the Kent School District in 1994. He worked with the Kent Crusaders for most of his career, until Severi rugby opened it's doors in Seattle in 2010, and Norris took an additional coaching position with them. He coaches two rugby programs, the Kent Crusader program as well as the Kent Rugby Academy, which operates under Severi.

Rugby carries a certain mystique, says Norris, and popular opinions of the sport are influenced by images of bloodied faces and broken bones, but in reality the sport isn't nearly as dangerous.

"The number of injuries in football is staggering compared to rugby," he says.

Norris says that while football is fun, he's stayed involved in rugby because of the whole body nature of the activity compared to football.

"In rugby it's more of a whole person, their ability to communicate, their confidence levels. It's a much more personal game. You see every person's face, you can't hide behind a mask," Norris says.

He also likes coaching rugby because he gets to train his players to think on their feet, instead of just following his orders.

"In football you're the general. In rugby we basically teach the skills to the players and they have to go out and do it and they make the decisions," he says.

The Kent teams have been wildly successful, with the girls team running a dominant 107-2 streak since 2002. The Kent team incorporates students from nine Puget Sound area high schools, with students from Mercer Island and Auburn Mountainview alongside students from Kent-Meridian, Kentwood and Kentlake.

The sport has been generous to Norris, and he hopes to pass on that interest to future generations.

"I've traveled around the world because of rugby. We've been very fortunate to send kids from the Kent area to Europe, to South Africa, to India and all over the world."

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