Bernie Cantorna, State High Rugby Coach, Signing Off

State High Girls Rugby team at the scrimmage. Mar 24. Photo courtesy of Lily Geuther.
State High Girls Rugby team at the scrimmage. Mar 24. Photo courtesy of Lily Geuther.

After 25 years in the State College Area School District, current girls’ rugby coach Bernard Cantorna, or Bernie as everyone knows him, has reached his decision of retirement. Cantorna is the current elected District Attorney of Centre County, and has been for five years. Due to the responsibility of being the District Attorney and wishing for some free time for himself, Cantorna has decided his role as a head coach has come to an end. 

Junior Sana’a Lunon has been coached by Cantorna since the eighth grade. “It’s really gonna be sad seeing him go. Honestly, I do not know what we’re gonna do when he’s gone. All the other coaches are really really great, and I’ve learned a lot from them as well, but he is the one. When I think about rugby, he is the one I have in mind,” Lunon said.

State High Girls Rugby team-huddle before the scrimmage. Mar 24. Photo courtesy of Lily Geuther.

Along with State High Rugby, Cantorna has also coached defense for the Penn State Women’s Rugby team since 2008. Moreover, he coached developmental camps for USA U-23 players, collegiate players, and USA women’s players. Cantorna is a Certified USA Rugby Level 300 Coach. 

Rachel Peters, a State High Alumni and former State High Rugby player, is now one of the four assistant coaches for State High Girls’ Rugby.

“He has given so much time and so much effort into this team and he has given back to the community in so many ways. I mean he helped me become the person I am today. So, just having him impact these girls, it’s huge,” Peters said. 

Cantorna was also a part of starting the rugby club at State High. After being denied by administration, Cantorna persisted and started the first ever boys’ rugby team at State High. They started with six players that year and ended with 25, but remained undefeated that season. The girls’ team started three to four years after that. 

Cantorna acts as a role model for the players, giving them advice both in and out of the pitch. 

Sophomore Mackenzie Wilson expands upon Cantorna’s guidance. “[Bernie will] pull you aside and give you some tips like, ‘You could do this better, and I know you can do better, I’ve seen you do better, you’ve got this’,” Wilson said. 

The players also elaborated upon Cantorna’s coaching philosophy.

“He is very to the point. I really like direct people. He is direct about what he wants and he gets the job done really really well,” sophomore Kierstin Ohlson said. 

“He points you in the right direction, but he doesn’t tell you exactly what to do. Which is good, because then I can learn through my own mistakes,” Lunon said. 

Cantorna wishes for the team to grow after his last year. He mentions how recruits are crucial and how rugby could be someone’s highlight in high school. 

State High Girls Rugby team on their scrimmage. Mar 24. Photo courtesy of Lily Geuther.

“What I would like to do is leave this team in a better place than when I found it,” Cantorna said. “We have four former State High players who are now coaches, so when I walk away this year, I want to walk away with a full squad of players that they can coach and the program can continue on after I’m gone.”

All the players and coaches noted how the rugby team is much more lenient when it comes to expectations from the athletes. While other varsity sports in the high school have rigorous schedules and tough environments, rugby is much more ‘chill’ as they describe it.

“With my schedule, swimming and stuff, managing everything becomes difficult, but Bernie said that he could make it flexible which is something I’ve never had before, because I’ve always been in a varsity sport where if you miss practice, you get cut,” Ohlson said. 

The rugby club is a no cut sport with open practices every Friday from 4:30 PM.

“I wanna encourage kids who are reading this, who are not involved in a spring sport, who thought maybe they might want to and think they have missed the boat, to them I say, ‘No, we’ll be here every Friday’,” Cantorna said. 

The dynamic in the team has been described as nothing less than accepting, open, and understanding. Along with the fun that comes with playing rugby, coming out to the pitch has been described as ‘feeling seen’ and ‘feeling like you belong’ by the athletes. 

“[Someone should join the rugby team because] They’re going to enjoy it. They’re going to have an immediate, accepting, open circle of student-athletes that are willing to work with them. We are a no cut sport, we will take players where they are, we will make them better and we will get them to the point where they can play,” Cantorna said. 

“I think it’s just somewhere where you can come and be yourself. A lot of sports in our school are very strict. Like you gotta be here, this day, this day, this day, but the thing about rugby with the schedule and as a whole is that we’re just chill. The vibe is whatever you want it to be, it is encouraging, it’s uplifting, and it’s like, just go with the flow really,” Lunon said. 

State High Girls Rugby team shaking hands at the end of the scrimmage. Mar 24. Photo courtesy of Lily Geuther.

The community and atmosphere in the rugby team is seen as open and accepting. With players lifting each other up, and the coaches providing constructive feedback and bringing out the best in all players. 

“We always build each other up. We always compliment each other like, ‘Oh my God! Nice hit!’ or like ‘Nice pass!’, basic team stuff,” Wilson said.

No prior experience is needed to join the rugby team. Any student at any skill level, regardless of if they play any other sport or not can be a part of this community. 

“If you give us four years with any high school kid, they will be extremely good rugby players by the time they’re done with this program,” Cantorna said. 

Cantorna wishes to leave the team growing both in numbers and skill. His impact can be seen in all students and coaches. His coaching philosophy and lessons taught are things that the people surrounding him will carry forever. 

“I’ve learnt a lot under him. Even if he’s not directly telling me stuff, just his whole body language, just how he coaches all of us, coaches the other players, how he talks to the other coaches, there’s just so much to learn from him,” Lunon said. 

Leave a Comment
Donate to Lions' Digest
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of State College Area High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Lions' Digest
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All Lions' Digest Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *