Mt. Vernon represented on state championship rugby team


Caolin Bair, a student at Mt. Vernon, was a member of Pendleton Heights state championship rugby team.

Photos courtesy Pendleton Youth Rugby

FORTVILLE — Caolin Bair admitted he didn’t know anything when he went to his first practice.

On the other hand, Steven DeVault was eager to play the sport he enjoyed in his home country.

Bair, a junior at Mt. Vernon High School this past school year, and DeVault, a Mt. Vernon sophomore, played rugby this spring for a team from Pendleton Heights High School.

The Arabians, in only their second year of having a high school club team, won the Rugby Indiana state championship. They were runners-up in 2021.

For DeVault, it was his second state championship of the school year. In the fall, he played football at Mt. Vernon, winners of the IHSAA Class 4A Football State Finals.

“The country I am from, we are big rugby fans,” DeVault, who is from Samoa, said. “I’ve only been playing for two years (for the Pendleton team). I didn’t know if America would have rugby. It was hard for me to find a school that had it.”

“I expected winning a state title at Mt. Vernon and Pendleton is just a powerhouse rugby team,” DeVault said. “I was so happy I could finally play the sport that was native to me.”

Bair was a completely different story.

“I never really knew what rugby was and it was hard for me to learn at first,” Bair said. “Everything was so confusing. Once I got a hold of it, it was pretty fun.”

“My favorite part of the game is its tempo,” Bair added. “It’s non-stop. There are no timeouts like in football.”

Bair said he and long-time Pendleton Heights friend Clifton VanDuyn joined the team last year.

“I was at Clifton’s house one night and we were watching rugby videos on YouTube,” Bair said. “It looked really fun. We were watching Ireland play. We’d never heard about (rugby) and it looked wild. We got a ball and started passing it a little bit.”

Pendleton Heights has over 30 players on its varsity roster for the sport that has its similarities to football, but minus the helmets and padding. Most of the players are from PHHS but there are a handful of players from Mt. Vernon, Frankton and Shenandoah.

Hunter Branham, who was a state qualifying heavyweight wrestler from Frankton High School, was the team’s MVP in the state championship game. The team also includes players that played football and wrestled at Pendleton Heights.

Head coach Austin Robbins said, as long as the school the student attends does not have rugby, they can come play for the Arabians. Pendleton also has a growing youth program and girls team.

“It definitely helps our depth and creates better competition to be able to go across multiple schools,” Robbins, who played club rugby at Indiana University and has coached a Bloomington high school team and for Fishers High School. “When I was coaching at Bloomington we combined Bloomington North and Bloomington South high schools, it made us a stronger program.”

Robbins said he was glad to add Bair and DeVault, as well as the players from the other schools.

“Steven came out last year after we came back from games in Tennessee,” Robbins said. “He and Caolin both have really pushed a lot of guys for varsity playing time this year.”

“We knew (Caolin) would be a solid junior varsity player for us, but there were quite a few times he surprised us and we gave him a shot in a few varsity matches,” Robbins added. “Originally, he wasn’t on our list of 30 players to take to (the national invitational), but we decided to add a 31st spot. He came on in the North Central varsity match and as soon as he stepped on the field he was one of the most dominant players.”

Robbins said DeVault was one of the best on the field for the junior varsity team and he keeps up that level of play when he works with the varsity group, pushing some of the seniors and more veteran players.

Pendleton Heights won the Indiana High School Boys Division I championship. They were 4-0 in the Varsity Hoosier Conference with wins over Westfield, Carmel, Noblesville and North Central.

To win the state title, played on Memorial Day in Elkhart, the team beat Leo 47-19. They edged Avon, 35-31 in the semi-final round.A year ago, they lost in the state tournament final to Carmel in double overtime.

The team is getting recognition nationally as one of the top high school programs, too.

They were invited to a national tournament in early May and received a No. 6 ranking in the Tier II Division.

The team finished 14-3, with the lone losses coming to two out of state teams in the national tournament and to Cathedral, part of the Indiana High School Super League.

Bair added he’d encourage newcomers to give the sport a try. He is glad he did.

“I would say watch a little bit (of rugby). It looks confusing, but if you give it a try you will really like it.”