Chicago Lions Release
The Chicago Lions Rugby organization, established in 1964, has hired Mark Santiago as their new Director of Youth Rugby and Women’s Fifteen Head Coach. The Chicago Lions merged the Wapiti Youth Program into the Chicago Lions in 2019. The Chicago Lions started their Women’s Fifteens program in 2018 and were D1 Midwest Champions before COVID halted their campaign for a 2020 National Championship. As Women’s Fifteens Head Coach, Mark will be responsible leading the Women’s Fifteens Rugby program and coordinating with other Chicago Lions Rugby program leaders.
As the Director of Youth Rugby, Mark will be responsible for all operational aspects of the youth rugby program including player and coach development and recruitment. The youth program for the Chicago Lions includes overseeing the After-school Program and the Pathway Program. The After School Program is in four different Chicago Public Schools as well as two private schools.The Pathway Program includes Rookie Rugby, Middle School Boys and Girls and High School Boys and GirlsSummer Programming – Provide rugby programming for local youth camps and the Chicago Park District.
Mark started playing rugby at University of Illinois at Chicago after being a D1 baseball player. Mark played for the Chicago Lions for over ten years and captained the club for two years. Mark also played professionally in South Africa and won a Gold Medal for Maccabi USA Rugby in Israel at the World Maccabi Games. Mark played All-Star Rugby for CARFU for 8 years, Midwest for 6, and was in the Eagle pool for several years.
After his playing days, Mark got into coaching where he capped off a 10-year professional coaching career by coaching for USA Rugby in 7s where he headed up the developmental program. Mark started his coaching career as Head Coach for Chicago North Shore where the club started as a D2 social club and when he left 7 years later, it was ranked in the top 6 in the country in D1. Markcoached select sides for CARFU women and men 15s as both a head and assistant, Midwest 15s backline coach. Mark started the Midwest Women’s 7s program and built it from zero National team players and only 1 Midwest senior player to a program of 4 sides (Senior, Developmental, U21, & U18), plus a national championship, and had 6 of 12 national team players that was ranked 2nd in the world only behind the Black Ferns. As an assistant he took the US Women’s National Teamto Barbados and won the tournament with only 1 try scored against them at the tournament. Mark was also an Assistant Coach for Maccabi USA Rugby.
Mark started his full-time professional sports career 8 years ago in the highly competitive youth baseball market in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Most recently, he was with Diamond Grind Baseball Academy. Mark is known for growing programs from the ground up and has always maintained his player development focus for kids from six years old up to -college age. Mark commented “I am so blessed and humbled to be returning to my rugby club of 10 years. I am so exciting to sink my teeth into the Director of Youth Rugby as well as go after a National Championship on the women’s side.”
With the completion of the J. Tyke Nollman Field at the Lions for Hope Complex, the Lions have their own home and a holistic rugby organization that starts with the Youth Program progressing to the Men’s and Women’s 15’s and 7’s. Chicago Lions President Jeff Simon stated “We are very excited to have Mark back in the Lions organization where can grow our programs and continue our outreach to build our relationships with community organizations. Mark’s combination of coaching Women’s rugby at the highest level and his success at youth player development on and off the field made him uniquely qualified to take us to the next level”.
Chicago Lions Rugby is part of the CLCA (Chicago Lions Charitable Association) which is a 501(c)3 organization and in 2015, The CLCA partnered with Chicago Hope Academy to build the Lions for Hope Sports Complex, a premier rugby centric facility, in the North Lawndale/East Garfield Park community. Chicago Hope Academy is an inner-city Christian school catering predominantly to minority youths, which was started in 2005 by Bob Muzikowski, a former Columbia University and Old Blue NY flanker.