Thursday, September 25, 2014

Meet The Team CC7s Edition: Chris Milledge

One of the most popular questions I get is "How do I get on the Stars?" and the basic answer is, "In any way you can, just make the effort and be responsible" as there are numerous pathways. It's been somewhat of a long running joke that I know everyone in rugby but the fact is I do a fair amount of scouting work attending regional 7s tournaments, high performance camps, the USA Rugby Club and Collegiate 7s Championships, high level competitions like Serevi Rugbytown 7s and by observing more players at the Las Vegas Invitational, CRCs, ACRA 7s, Lakefront 7s, the American Pro Rugby Training Center and more. Some players make our side via submitting playing film or through coaches recommendations.

More come to us from current Stars players that recognize talent on their club teams, their college sides, and in their opposition. I've had quite a few college coaches tell me about amazing players in their own programs and that they've seen on other teams; we do outreach to college clubs to visit campuses and watch their teams in action. I've even asked referee friends for recommendations (yes, the "dark side" is good for something)!

Our primary mission is to develop players through combining emerging talent with experienced veterans so that every player returns to their club/college a stronger rugby 7s athlete. Building our rosters is about striking the proper balance with our teams and therefore the tournaments we attend offer a mix of elite and developmental opportunities with high level competition for all involved. The secondary mission is to ensure that players that stand our in their programs but happen to live in geographic regions without access to D1, WPL, PRP or ARP programs have the chance to play, and be challenged at, a higher level. We also want our athletes to experience the amazing camaraderie of the sport of rugby - hence touring to other countries and seeking out opportunities beyond what is offered in a given region of the United States.

Cape Fear 7s Championship Game
So the nomination process is fairly open and any player interested in Stars Rugby 7s is directed to fill out our player information surveys when it comes time to build our tournament teams. Chris came to us via friends that have been a part of/seen the program at various tournaments and followed our updates via social media (click for our follow and facebook and twitter). When it came time for player nominations for our Canada, Australia and Tobago tours he submitted his information. Some follow-up with respected rugby folks from Charlotte, the South, conversations with Chris's club coach, and with those that played for and against Chris yielded high praise for his abilities and his fitness. His rugby credentials from numerous all-star sides and time spent at the Serevi Rugby developmental camp and High Performance Training Camp also boded well.

Here's his story:

"My rugby career started at the age of 17 after my family and I moved to a new neighborhood in Charlotte, NC. My neighbor across the street, PJ Anderson, was from South Africa and he knew that I had played sports all my life including football and baseball. He told me that he was starting a team at Providence Senior High School. One day he invited my family over to his house and he showed me a video clip of a rugby match he recorded to explain to me what rugby was and why I should play. At the time I had no idea what rugby was or that it was even a sport but I sat down with him and watched it trying to decipher this strange, interesting game.

After it was over, he invited me to a rugby practice at my high school. It was the first time my school had a rugby team and he knew with my sporting background that I should at least give it a try. A few days later I went out to my first ever rugby practice with him and the team. I had no idea why I needed to wear such short shorts, or why the ball was missing laces, or why I had to keep going backwards in order to go forward but after a long two hour mud filled practice I fell in love with rugby.

That same year I started at inside center and played every game for my high school. During that same year I played 7s for a U19 team PJ started up that included players from some other local high schools in the area. I was really hooked to this seven a side game and 7s actually ignited a passion within me to play this great sport long term.

Charlotte Rugby Club 15s
After my first year of playing rugby I went to a local college and played for the Charlotte Men’s Rugby Club starting in August of 2009; at the time they were still members of the Super League and had a great coaching staff and experienced players with valuable mentoring. Transitioning from high school games to men’s rugby was an adjustment, but I learned so much in my time there and the experience was valuable to my progression as an athlete.

After the 15s season ended I returned to the U19 program to play 15s select side rugby while captaining the U19s 7s squad. We finished the 7s season undefeated against all U19 teams, had 5 trophies to our name, and competed in a men’s 7s tournament where we finished runners-up.

South Panther All-Stars with some other Stars

Since my U19 days I have been blessed to be a part of some great teams and organizations. I was accepted to Life University, I was named a Southern Rugby Conference 15s All Star, I played alongside the Charlotte 7s Elite Side that went to USA Rugby Club 7s Nationals, I was selected to the USA South U22 All Star team as well as the USA South Men’s All Star team that won the NACRA title in 2013. I was a Serevi Rugby Scholarship athlete to both the Atlanta camp and the Men’s Residency High Performance Camp. Most recently I have been honored with being selected to tour with Stars 7s Rugby.

I have also done my part to give back to the community that supported me through so many years. After I graduated high school, I registered to become a certified referee and certified USA Rugby coach. I have really enjoyed being a part of the Charlotte Junior Rugby Association the past 5 years or so. The CJRA started off as an idea from Matt Henry, a transplant from New Zealand, to improve grassroots and youth rugby here in the Charlotte area. I was one of the first coaches picked to help out and go to local elementary schools and middle schools to start before and after school programs for boys and girls rugby teams of all ages. Coaching these teams was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done; the smile and excitement the kids had about the game I love was truly inspiring and I really hope to continue coaching the youth and grassroots level. Needless to say I have been blessed to be playing a sport I love at a variety of different levels and different aspects from playing to refereeing to coaching.

Coaching with the CJRA
I am looking forward to playing in Australia with the phenomenal players and staff at Stars 7s Rugby. I have been lucky enough to play rugby across the US and the Caribbean but to play in Australia is something that I could have never imagined and a dream I have had for myself for a long time. The opportunity to play teams from the top rugby nations in the world is an exciting test I am truly looking forward to. Playing rugby in another country is one thing but experiencing a rugby culture in a different environment and making new friends and connections along the way is what I am truly looking forward to.

I started playing rugby back in 2008 and I have learned a lot since then. The biggest thing that I learned is how accepting and tight knit the rugby community and family is across the globe. No matter where you go or what your background is your rugby brothers and sisters will welcome you with open arms. I hope that I continue to be blessed with these great opportunities and improve as a rugby player. I owe a great debt to rugby and all that it has done for me and I cannot be more excited for what the future holds"

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