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Carolina high school rugby player trains in England

Aiken, S.C. -- Aiken rugby player Alex Paczynski recently completed a two-week stay in the United Kingdom, where he got to play with the “big boys.”
Paczynski plays scrumhalf for the Aiken Lions, Aiken’s high school rugby team. URS sponsors the Lions and their overseas sister team, the Pride of Cumbria in England. URS is a major contractor at South Carolina's Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C.

Paczynski got to experience the religion of rugby in England first-hand during his summer break. He stayed with a URS employee, Dick Raaz, who is the chairman of the White Haven Rugby Club. Raaz had Paczynski practicing with the Reserves club, which is an over 21 team. Alex experienced playing with guys with a lot more skills, since they start living rugby at such a young age.

“To get a good basis for a rugby team, you have to start before high school, at a much younger age. There they pay people to go to the schools and play rugby with the younger kids to get them experience early on,” Paczynski said.

While he was over there he got to participate in training with the Champion One over 21 teams, similar to U.S. minor leagues, where he participated in weightlifting, running, drills, plays, tackles, conditioning and much more. He feels that this experience made him not only a better player, but one that is more well-rounded and versatile than just the constraints of his previous scrumhalf position.

“The main difference in American rugby is how they tackle. They tackle a lot differently and they use a lot more speed work,” said Paczynski.

Paczynski met the chief executive of The Leeds Rhinos, Gary Hetherington of the Rugby League Super League. He even got to go to a game and sit in the director’s box. He attended several different varieties of rugby while in the UK, including the Y15 games and the Reserve games.

Aiken Lion's Head coach John Schwenker, also a URS employee, loved that his player got to experience UK rugby first hand.

“This is what Aiken Lions rugby is all about – providing opportunity for area high school students to experience one of the world’s greatest sports, and the camaraderie that goes with it. I am so glad that Alex got to have this experience, and grateful to URS for sponsoring the Lions and Alex’s trip. We look forward to seeing Alex utilize his new skills on the rugby pitch next season."

Paczynski is currently a junior at South Aiken High School and hopes to bring his experience from the UK on to the Aiken field this upcoming season. He is also looking ahead to college opportunities that might arise, although academics in college are his first priority.

The Aiken team consists of 22 players and has just completed its first season.

The local high schools and/or the city do not provide funding for this team, so setting it up becomes costly for everyone. The team looked towards URS for help with expenses, including the kit, which sports URS colors as well as a URS logo.

“It was an absolute pleasure to have Alex with us here in the ‘mother country,’ said Raaz. “Rugby is a major piece of the cloth of society here in Cumbria and Alex got to see that, with all of its intensity, up close. His enthusiasm for the sport and his gracious Southern manners made him the perfect ambassador for Aiken and his club. I know he will carry that attitude into the new season and, frankly, into the rest of his life. We wish him well and hope to have him back to play with our squad in a couple of years.”

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