Buoyant Sharks Feeder System

Kevin Bunce’s protégés playing well in college too
Kevin Bunce Jr., an East Hampton High School freshman, carrying the ball above, and his Rugby Academy teammates are said by Kevin’s father to be well schooled in passing, handling the ball, and tackling. Meg Bunce

The men’s rugby team here, the Montauk Sharks, may be having a numbers problem, but the youth teams aren’t, according to Kevin Bunce, who coaches a high school-age side that’s playing a 15-on-a-side season now versus metropolitan area opponents.

The team Bunce — and Mike Jablonski of Mattituck — co-coach is a combined one, with players from East Hampton, Mattituck, Shoreham-Wading River, Mount Sinai, and Patchogue. “We’ve got one or two seniors, three juniors, and the rest are sophomores and freshmen. . . . We practice Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Veterans Memorial Field in Calverton, across from the Calverton Cemetery on Route 25. It’s centrally located, everyone has to make an effort to get there, and they are.”

Officially known as the Section XI Rugby Academy, Bunce and Jablonski’s team recently mauled St. Francis Prep 59-5 in a 15s game played at Mattituck High School. Bunce, in reply to a question, said he wasn’t trying to run up a score. “These kids are good,” he said. “Their passing and ball-handling is phenomenal, they tackle perfectly, nice and low with their heads out, they’re in great shape, and they have experience playing with one another.”

The East Hamptoners on the team include Bunce’s son, Kevin Jr., a freshman at East Hampton High School, Ricky Ortiz, a junior, Sebastian Sanchez, a freshman, who wrestled in the heavyweight division for East Hampton this past winter, and Christian Johnson, a sophomore, whose older brother, Brandon, is starring in 7s and 15s at Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland. 

“We’ve also had a couple of football players come out for our practices — after 20 or 30 minutes they were gassed. We’ll see if they stick with it.”

“Last year, we had a very good 7s jayvee team, they did really well, and they’ve all brought out friends for the 15s season, which is going on now,” said Bunce. “We’ve got games every Sunday in May. We’ll be playing the Dwight School on Randalls Island this weekend. On May 12, we’re playing Lycée Français of New York City, at Mattituck, probably at 2 p.m., and on the 19th we’re playing Bishop Loughlin, out of Brooklyn, there. We’ve got a game on the 26th too. . . .”

The Rugby Academy’s players usually weigh less than their opponents, though they are, said Bunce, “tough and, as I said, they handle the ball and tackle very well. Conor Pearce of Shoreham-Wading River was a county wrestling champ, Chris Vetter, also of Shoreham, was second in the county tournament, and Jake Jablonski, Mike’s kid, took third. We’ve got a lot of wrestlers on the team.”

Moreover, “a father of one of our kids who has a younger brother is going to put together a 12-and-under team. They’ve already got 15 kids. We’ve got an under-14 team too, the South Side Hookers. So, in other words, we’ve got a self-sustaining feeder system for the men’s team. More kids are playing in college . . . it’s like an automatic fraternity.”

Speaking of college, Bunce said Brandon Johnson has played on tournament championship 7s sides in New York, Las Vegas, and Maryland — catching the eye of New Zealand scouts at the Randalls Island tourney — and that Josh King has been playing at American International University. “He’s only a freshman and he’s been nominated as his team’s most valuable defensive player, which is good. Brandon’s a sophomore. He loves it there and everyone loves him. Everybody looks out for everybody there.”

Another protégé of Bunce’s, Jordan Johnson, recently won a scholarship to play rugby at New England College in New Hampshire. “Their coach coached my nephew Michael on the U.S.A. team — that was the connection. George Calderon could have gone to New England College too, but he wants to be an architect, and they didn’t have the classes there he would need.”

Brandon Johnson, Bunce added, was “literally one step away from being on U.S.A. teams and turning pro. He played in the elite division in the Out of the World Series 7s tournament in Las Vegas, for the Starz Rugby Club, which is New Zealand-based. They’re looking for young players to develop. They saw him play in that Randalls Island tournament. I’m pretty sure he had the most tries in the Vegas tournament. He’s good in 15s, but I think 7s is his sport. He’s strong and fast and has the hands. St. Mary’s is going to play in the college rugby 7s championships in Philadelphia the first weekend in June. I’m trying to get a bus to go down.”