They drove around the district for hours, leaving pamphlets on every door trying to turn a dream into a reality.

With a peaking interest in a sport his father had played in college, Joe Baker wanted to join a rugby team, but he couldn't find any. His father, Curt, promptly took matters into his own hands and started his own program.

The Unionville Rugby Club quickly grew into one of the region's largest programs as more than a hundred participants showed up for the first meeting in response to the pamphlets about the sport distributed by the Bakers.

Now in its eighth year, the program boasts teams for boys and girls in both middle and high school.

"My dad was incredibly supportive of me," Joe Baker said. "He never pressured me into the sport. He's motivated me personally to do well, and to work hard."

Now a junior finance major at Penn State and a member of the school's rugby team, Baker will return to Philadelphia this weekend as the Nittany Lions compete in the second annual USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championships at PPL Park in Chester.

They will open with three matches on Saturday, starting against LSU in the morning; that match will also serve as the tournament kickoff. Temple, the only other local squad in the 16-team field, will close out the first day with a match against Oklahoma.

In last season's inaugural tournament in Columbus, Ohio, the Nittany Lions dropped all four of their games, including ones against future champion Utah and host Ohio State. Baker said the tournament was difficult, and the team didn't know how to prepare.

The 5-foot-9, 178-pounder said the team has a different mind-set this time. All but two players have returned from last year's squad, and they endured a heavy workload of two-a-day practices as the team remained on campus more than three weeks after classes ended for the summer.

"You talk to your friends, and they say how they're going to the beach," Baker said. "I can go to the beach for the rest of my life. Nothing compares to playing rugby in front of 20,000 people."

Along with the large crowds, the tournament will be televised live nationally across three NBC networks. Baker said he thought last year that the national spotlight would create a different atmosphere for the game, but he said it was easy to ignore once the game got under way.

Contact staff writer Matt Breen
at 215-854-4550