On a recent Saturday, two teams of 15 kids were running around a field in Matthews, carrying an oblong ball.
It's rugby, and it's growing in south Charlotte.
A small group of parents and players started the South Mecklenburg Tigers rugby club at the end of last year with the goal of spreading the relatively unknown sport to area high schools.
Rugby is a sport similar to American football that originated in England. Two teams field 15 players each, and it's played with an oblong ball that is carried. Teams score by touching the ball down in the goal area or by kicking the ball through goal posts at the end of the field.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Meredith Stroud's 15-year-old son, Parker, played for a local U14 rugby team last year, but there was no high school rugby club at South Mecklenburg High, where he is now a freshman. There were club teams in Matthews and Union County, as well as high school teams at Charlotte Catholic, Providence High and Myers Park High, but nothing for South Meck.
Stroud and Parker set out to start a club last fall.
"Originally ... the idea was to develop this team so it was large enough that enough of the South Meck students could be a team unto themselves and it could be moved into the school," said Stroud, 52. "But South Meck wasn't interested right now. Football is their big thing."
A handful of boys - mostly Parker's friends and former teammates - joined the team last year. In a sport that puts 15 players on the field at one time, that wasn't enough.
"It wasn't a big enough interest," said Stroud. "We got kind of a core and then we realized ... we wanted to have a team of 30, so it was a bit of a struggle to get us from a team of 15 to a team of 30. The 15 came quickly."
Eventually, more came. The team boasts players from South Meck, West Mecklenburg, Butler, Olympic, Ardrey Kell, East Mecklenburg and even Carmel Middle. The Tigers started practicing in November and there currently are 25 players.
Conrad Wood, 42, whose son, Haldo, plays on the team, has been key in helping the club find money to buy uniforms and other equipment. The club has received donations and sponsorships from local companies and also has held fundraisers through events like garage sales. Members are asked to pay dues, but Stroud said the club doesn't want players to stop coming because they can't afford it.
"If they can't afford it, we'll find a way to afford it," she said. "We ask them to participate as much as they can in getting us to that point."
The Tigers play in the North Carolina Youth Rugby Union High School Club League, competing against club teams from Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Hoke County, the Triad, Matthews, Union County and Vance County.
Riaan Van Schalkwyk is vice president of NCYRU and had been coaching in the Charlotte area. Meredith got in touch with him, and he became the Tigers coach.
Van Schalkwyk, 42, grew up in South Africa and started playing at 5 years old. He started coaching in South Africa when he was 25 and moved to Charlotte three years ago. In South Africa, where rugby is very popular, kids start playing young, said Van Schalkwyk, who has two sons, Duncan and Zander, on the team.
With the Tigers, the majority of players are picking up the sport for the first time. "We're amazed to see how these guys have grown," said Van Schalkwyk. "It's astounding."
Parker said he thought he would be in shape for rugby after playing football in middle school, but he was wrong. His teammates pushed him to get better, he said.
What many players and parents say they enjoy most about the sport is how team-oriented it is.
Julian Robert, 15, also a freshman at South Meck, has an uncle who played Rugby in Paris. Julian said he loves the team aspect of the sport.
"That's what I like about it, how team-oriented it is and how anyone can really pick up and play," he said.
"All the kids get to play," said Wood. "They all get to touch the ball."
Wood added that the teams have a "third half" at the end of games, when the kids from both teams come together and eat.
"They just were yelling at each other on the field about how they were going to knock their head off, and 10 minutes later they're eating hamburgers and joking," he said.
Rugby is a rough sport, said Wood, but so far the team has had few injuries.
"If you listen to the coaches and play the sport like it's supposed to be played, you'll see minimal injuries," said Van Wilder, 46, whose son, Wesley, is on the team and good friends with Parker.
So far, the team has done a good job listening to its coaches. The Tigers are 4-0 and finished first in the North Carolina Youth Rugby Festival in March, where they faced teams from Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey.
According to Van Schalkwyk, the team's success so far comes from the players' willingness to learn and determination.
Wilder said he hopes the club will continue to grow after it's first year.
"The goal is to start building it up so we can feed our upper teams, but (also) teach them all about rugby and make sure they all have fun and teach them how to play right," he said.
The Tigers seem to be learning quickly.
"We never thought that we were going to be where we are at the moment," said Van Schalkwyk. "They were just so interested in playing this beautiful sport."