Lee Kelly, who turned Gonzaga into a national power, leaves a legacy beyond rugby
Among the high school rugby hamlets that populate the prep sports landscape, few have evolved into kingdoms. The sport’s violent perception and relative lack of popularity in the United States can make for an uphill battle. It can be difficult to secure school support, and some kids are reluctant to trade pads and penalty kicks for rucks and mauls.
Despite those obstacles, Lee Kelly built not just a competitive program but what some consider the nation’s best, transforming D.C.’s Gonzaga College High into a perennial title contender. Kelly, who won four national rugby championships at the I Street school, died at 72 on Aug. 31 after a battle with prostate cancer.
“Gonzaga rugby is pretty much synonymous with consistent excellence,” said Alex Goff, founder of the Goff Rugby Report, which covers American high school and college rugby. “If you ask almost anybody at any time in the last 10 to 15 years, ‘Name me the top teams in the country,’ they’re going to have Gonzaga on that list, and that is a direct reflection of the energy and the love of the game from Lee.”