Utah has often been seen as promising territory because of senior clubs featuring gifted Polynesian players, but the state's youth ranks are now far more important.
In the past six years, school teams have more than doubled while senior sides have decreased by 50 percent, according to a comparison of figures from Rugby Magazine and the Utah union web site. The Beehive state has spawned a 7th-8th graders competition and 13-team high school league, to go along with 6 college teams (supplemented by 2 Idaho schools).
If the Polynesian community has been rugby's inspiration, the school system has fueled growth.
The narrow, 75-mile Ogden-Salt Lake-Provo corridor, one of America's denser urban areas, is home to scores of sports-minded secondary schools. Strongly associated with football, rugby is covered as sport in local newspapers and played before thousands in a Major League Soccer stadium. Thus there is ample incentive for more teams to form and challenge national collegiate elites Utah and BYU, and under-19 powers United and Highland.
Utah is not a textbook example of schools-based rugby. At the youth level, composite sides rather than high school XVs are at the top of the heap. Highland High's web site considers rugby a club, not a sport.
But Highland's historical predominance has not prevented regional growth nor United's rise. Looking back over the past 20 years, it's hard to find similar examples regarding regionally dominant club teams, such as Charlotte or Life. This suggests that school-based resources are better able to surmount competitive obstacles that start-from-scratch clubs cannot.
As Utah is far closer to Colorado's mountain towns and even Denver than San Francisco or the Pacific Northwest, it is interesting to consider whether regional (territorial) realignment would stimulate further growth in America's mountain west.