California youth rugby team employs Saints-like pay-for-injury bounty program

Forget the NFL, disgusting bounties for violent hits are being doled out in California youth sports, too.

The Martinez Raptors youth rugby program in action — Facebook
The Martinez Raptors youth rugby program in action — Facebook

As first reported by San Francisco ABC affiliate KGO -- and first brought to Prep Rally's attention by NBC blog Off the Bench -- coaches for a U-14 rugby team in Northern California were reportedly offering up to $30 per match for injuring opponents during competition. The two men who have been accused of setting up and running the unofficial bounty program are Wesley Van Tonder Sr. and Jr., the father and son duo who established the Martinez Raptors in 2011.

While the Raptors have rugby programs for athletes as young as 8, KGO reported that there was no indication that any team besides the program's U-14 squad was involved in the pay-for-injury scheme.

Incredibly, the scandal was uncovered when one of the Raptors players brazenly turned to his coach after leveling an opponent and asked if a hit he delivered was worthy of cash.

"One of the players hit our player hard which we thought was fine and he turned to his coach and said, 'How was that coach? Is that good enough for the money?'" said president of Lamorinda Rugby, Tony McKenzie.

The Lamorinda president complained to the league's governing body, the Northern California Youth Rugby Association (NCYRA).

"It was $20 or $30, but from a kid's perspective whether it's $5 or $500, it's a motivation and that's just not appropriate," said NCYRA disciplinary chairman Matt Eason.

Disturbingly, the Van Tonders told their players not to say anything to investigators about the bounties, though that didn't stop the story from getting out; the father of one player confirmed that they had been put in place.

As one might expect, the Van Tonders have been banned from coaching in any youth rugby competitions in California, though it was uncertain where that left the U-14 program they had been coaching, or the younger divisions of the Martinez Raptors program they established.

Still, given the morally corrupt practices they were spreading to their players, one hopes that the existing Raptors players might find other rugby programs in the area if need be.

That's a small price to pay to ensure that the Van Tonders aren't anywhere near youth rugby again.

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