By a score of 27-26, the rugby team from Gonzaga College High School, N.W. defeated Jesuit High School of Sacramento, Calif., 27- 26 to capture the school's first national title in the Boys' High School Rugby National Championship.

On May 17, the Purple Eagles, ranked second in the country, faced last year's champions, the undefeated and top ranked ranked Marauders in a rematch of the championship game held in Elkhart, Ind.

"It was a thrill to see the joy in the players' eyes and in the coaches eyes after winning the championship," said Lee Kelly, director of rugby at Gonzaga for more than 10 years. The varsity coaches included head coach Peter Baggetta, and assistants Paolo Iscaro, Grant Furnary and Jim Cuddihy. It was the third time that Gonzaga reached the championship game.

"We have an amazing group of players, coaches and parents," said Kelly who has been involved in the rugby program at Gonzaga since his sons Brendon and Connor attended and graduated in 2002 and 2006. "I get amazing support from the school," he added.

In the finals, Gonzaga - champions of the Mid Atlantic Varsity Rugby Conference - was led by senior Ben Cima who has been selected to the All-American Rugby team every year since his sophomore year.

About 200 students currently participate in Gonzaga's 26-year-old rugby. Kelly said that with 18 coaches and six teams - three varsity, two junior varsity and one freshman team - the school is able to accommodate all students who are interested in the sport. There are no player cuts. The coaches especially work to prepare freshmen and sophomore students giving them opportunities to play in many games before moving them to the higher level of play.

"We're not afraid to lose to get better," Kelly said. The director noted that about 90 percent of the participants have never played rugby before high school. However, he added, participation in rugby is growing - it is played in 110 countries - and he expects to see an increased interest in the sport after it is featured in the 2016 Olympics.

Additionally for the past five years, the school has hosted the Jesuit Rugby Classic each spring, and for several years plans an international trip for players, coaches and parents to expose the students to the worldwide fraternity of rugby.

"We have a camaraderie unique to many other sports," said Kelly, who has been involved with rugby for 44 years since playing at the University of Maryland. The director said the spring break trip serves as both a cultural experience and rugby development as each of the three top teams play three games while overseas.

On a recent trip to Argentina, the team attended a Mass that happened to be celebrated by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then-archbishop of Buenos Aires and now Pope Francis.

Kelly noted in general, sports teach many of life's lessons and several of Gonzaga's players go on to play rugby in college. This year the school's valedictorian, Tyler Jones, also played the sport. For Kelly rugby is a passion he is happy to share with anyone.

"I started at Gonzaga with my two boys which was special, now I share it with 200 boys - and that is special too," he said.