Ridgeite plays rugby for USA

Rugby may not be a major sport in America, but destiny broughtrugby and Bay Ridgeite Michael Petri together.

Now, the Brooklyn native is training hard, conditioning his bodythrough planned drills and exercise while maintaining a strictdiet, because in September he will represent the United States inthe Rugby World Cup (RWC) in New Zealand-and he and his teammatesare aiming to make some noise in a sport not commonly found in theUSA.

For us, as a developing rugby nation, we want to really put inour best performance the entire time and be proud of what we’vedone, and show that the USA is definitely a force to be reckonedwith in the rugby world, and will be in the future for quite sometime, said Petri.

Growing up, Petri enjoyed popular sports like basketball, andsaid he never knew what rugby was, but after coaches at XavierHigh School in Manhattan saw him play a basketball game, they askedPetri to try out for the rugby team.

Contemplating over whether to try out or not, Petri talked tohis father, Michael Petri Sr., who shocked his son by revealingthat he once played the foreign sport for St. Francis Prep, whichwas located in Brooklyn at that time, and was a powerhouse inrugby.

Petri Sr. – like his teammates- played rugby out of season,recalling, I probably enjoyed playing rugby more than I didfootball. He stopped playing rugby after he received a collegescholarship to play a football at Villanova University- a move thatPetri Jr. said was a sensible choice given the low popularity ofAmerican rugby back then.

I don’t know what kind of opportunities he would have hadreally, Petri Jr. said. I think he definitely made the rightdecision to get a free education and play football.

But, after hearing stories about his father’s experience, Petrisaid, I’ll give it a try.

He quickly learned the rough contact sport, and because of hisathleticism, he excelled at it during his four years at Xavier.

He received a scholarship to Penn State, where he was afour-time All-American and was recognized as one of the mostskilled rugby players in the nation while playing as a scrumhalf,the play-maker position.

Then, he played in domestic leagues before he was selected tojoin the USA team for the 2007 RWC in France.

Petri said the group didn’t receive much attention then, butthey will this time around because it will be nationally televisedon NBC, and, more importantly, its first game against Ireland is onSeptember 11.

Petri said the team is looking forward to defending USA’sreputation on the 10-year anniversary of the World Trade Centerattacks. It’s huge for us. We’ve had that marked on our calendarfor a long time, he said.

Winning the entire tournament will be tough though, since theUSA has to play Australia, Ireland, and Italy, which are rankedworldwide at second, fourth, and 11th respectively. However, Petribelieves that success on the international stage will helpcultivate rugby in America and his hometown.

I hope that people do pay attention, because it is a game thatI think the American public will embrace, said Petri, adding, Iloved growing up here and maybe even someday we’ll see a Brooklynrugby team.

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