After two-year hiatus, Junior Gents rugby returns to pitch this spring with reboot

Glenwood High senior Caden Howe has turned his love of rugby into a chance to play collegiately at Lindenwood University

The Junior Gents high school rugby team practices on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Willits.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

When the pandemic shut down the rugby scene in the Roaring Fork Valley, Caden Howe jumped on an opportunity to spend the school year in South Africa, where he decided to fully embrace the sport.

Now, the Glenwood Springs High School senior finds himself committed to play for Lindenwood University in Missouri, which has one of the best collegiate rugby programs in the nation.

“When I decided to fully commit to moving to South Africa for rugby and to go to an all-boys’ school, that was sort of my decision that if I was going anywhere for anything, it would be rugby,” Howe said Tuesday during practice with the Junior Gents at the pitch in Willits. “I’m so excited. I can’t wait. I’m really psyched to challenge myself and meet new people and learn new things and new aspects of the sport and just embrace it head on.”

Howe is one of the top players for the Junior Gents this spring, the valley’s high school rugby team that is an offshoot of the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club. There hasn’t been a full high school season since spring 2019 because of the pandemic, so for many teams, including the Junior Gents, this spring has involved something of a full reboot.

The juniors are again coached by longtime rugby fixture Cameron McIntyre, who also helps coach the senior team during the summer and in the fall during the club’s annual Ruggerfest tournament.

“It would have been nice to know for sure as we could have hit the reset button at Christmas time. But the truth is it didn’t even show that we could organize a season until about six weeks before,” McIntyre said. “Because we had difficulty in the last couple of years working out whether we would be allowed to do anything or not, even this year we weren’t sure, so recruiting was very difficult.”

The Gents have made the most of it, however, and decided to take their seven committed players and join with players from Grand Junction to form a team this spring. The two sides train independently during the week, outside of a few joint preseason sessions they were able to coordinate, and then come together to play on the weekends under the name and colors of the Gents.

They’ve played the past three weekends — this Saturday being the fourth — and beat a combination team based out of Brighton and Fort Collins last weekend, 43-17, for their first win.

Glenwood Springs High School senior Caden Howe of the Junior Gents high school rugby team practices on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Willits. Howe will play collegiately for Lindenwood.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“It’s awesome. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen them, and the last time I played with them I still barely knew them,” Howe said of playing with the Junior Gents for the first time since his freshman year.

He also said the relationship with the Grand Junction players has been strong.

“It’s actually been awesome that we can put our differences aside and that we are willing to make the commute to work together and come together and play as one team. … It’s a chance to come together and a chance to be a family,” Howe said.

Howe’s connection to South Africa comes through his family’s outfitting company. He connected with another company in South Africa when working to put together a hunting trip, and the owner came up with the idea of Howe going to the country for an internship following his seventh-grade year.

Then, last year as a high school junior, Howe spent the entire school year at a boarding school in South Africa and fully committed to the experience, including rugby. South Africa is one of the sport’s biggest superpowers on the international stage.

“I started talking with one of these outfitters from down there, and he came up with the whole idea about me staying with him and doing an internship and learning how to manage safaris and manage the game. From there I just sort of embraced all of it and tried learning as much as possible,” said Howe, who was also a standout football player and wrestler. “Last year when I moved down to South Africa, it was only rugby, nothing else, and I’ve just been focusing on that this last year and a half.”

Howe’s experience has certainly been a boost for the Junior Gents, who have only limited rugby experience across its seven-man local roster that also includes players from Aspen and Basalt. Fellow GSHS senior Sawyer McKenney is another of the team’s standouts, with the rest of the roster including fellow Glenwood Springs athletes Gary Littell and Oliver Green, Aspen’s Christian Marenco, and Basalt’s Ben Geiser and Lev Illouz.

Cameron McIntyre coaches the Junior Gents high school rugby team during practice on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Willits. McIntyre also helps coach the senior Gents in the summer.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The Jr. Gents hope to play a pair of games this weekend in Evergreen alongside the Grand Junction crew, and then hopefully play again next weekend on the road. What happens in regard to any end-of-season tournaments remained up in the air as of this past week.

Normally a Division II team, the Junior Gents have played in the lower Division III this spring, which is more of a developmental tier than anything. High school rugby in Colorado is operated separately of the Colorado High School Activities Association.

“They do seem to meld together pretty well, because we’ve got a similar message on how we need to play. And it is a challenge, but it’s worked out a little bit better each week,” McIntyre said of meshing with the Grand Junction players.

“The first two weeks were more like training runs than anything else because of the limited chance of preparation, and we played one of the top-tier teams first off, and the scoreline showed it. But they actually played much better than I expected, considering the lack of preparation.”

The Junior Gents have been aided this spring by a generous donation of $50,000 from the California-based company Rainbow Sandals. Its founder, Jay “Sparky” Longley, does a lot of philanthropic work and chose the Aspen Rugby Foundation as one of his friend’s daughters dates Ben Mitchell, a current Major League Rugby player who has coached the Aspen Gents summer and Ruggerfest teams the past few seasons.

Gallery caption: Photos: Junior Gents rugby practice

The money helps cover equipment and travel costs for the Junior Gents, and allows them to waive any dues for the players, making it completely free to compete in the spring.

Mitchell plans to return to the Gents this summer after his season concludes — he’s also been playing alongside the USA Eagles national team as of late — with McIntyre primarily leading the early charge. The Gents plan to play in Santa Fe in late May to start their season before kicking off league play the first week of June.

McIntyre said they want to continue to work with the high school players throughout the summer and again are making a push to form some sort of women’s side, or at the very least extended training opportunities, for the summer as well.

“There are four or five women in the valley who play regularly with other teams, like Boulder or Vail. But we haven’t been able to organize anything more structured that brings them together in a team they could put out themselves,” McIntyre said. “But it would be nice if there are enough people, or if there are only three, we’ll help them train through the summer, and we’ll work out what we can have happen for them as it goes forward.”

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