Rugby State Championship: A (not so) brief history

May 1, 2014 by

There has been a lot of discussion about youth sports in our community recently.  I am so glad I have had the chance to experience youth sports as a coach’s/organizer’s wife.  I think it will make me a better parent-of-players when my kids are old enough to play sports (but I will reserve these life lessons for another post).

There have been suggestions that we just don’t have the proper facilities to host [insert sport] tournaments.  But I think the primary focus on facilities is misplaced.  What we need is people — people who are willing to put in the time and to champion JCMO as a host city.  We also need to think creatively — about how we might use existing resources to make things happen right here in JCMO.

We are excited to be hosting the high school boys’ rugby State Championship in #JCMO this weekend (Saturday and Sunday).  Seven teams of high school boys of approximately 30 players each (+ coaches and families) are headed to JCMO this weekend (2 from KC and 5 STL).  (It could have been eight teams total traveling in, but alas, JCMO qualified for the tournament too, and I’m really okay with that)!

This got me thinking back to how it all began…

In 2006, a few guys in Jefferson City that had played rugby in college started talking about getting a high school team together.  The first “official” season for JCRFC was Spring 2007.  The only other teams then (and now) in Missouri were in STL and KC.

It was a learning experience.  The team played on various soccer fields throughout the city.  Some had restrictions about semi-permanent non-soccer related structures (read: no real rugby goal posts allowed).  Others prioritized their primary use (soccer) and so cancelled frequently because of rain for risk of potential damage to the fields.  It was fun.  If you’ve never built uprights (they look somewhat like football goal posts) out of PVC and duct tape you are missing out.  During one of the first games, someone kicked the ball and it was headed straight for the (sagging) cross bar — all the parents who had labored that morning putting those darn things up held their breath — when the ball ricocheted off the cross bar, and the posts were still standing, there was a collective sigh of relief and quite a bit of clapping.

Rugby #JCMO

The making of rugby posts.

We did what we could with the money we had (and by we I mean my husband and the other two coaches of the team).  Do you have ANY idea how expensive those 6-gatorade water bottle holders and water bottles are?  (Shower caddy + $1 water bottles = way cheaper).

A little spray paint and a piece of wood.  Voila

A little spray paint and a piece of wood. Voila!  Scoreboard!

The Field (or “Pitch” in rugby terms)

One important step was finding a field.  The coaches literally drove around JCMO looking for semi-flat fields.  They called people with farms.  The flattest, largest space they could find was across the river, and through Mid-Mo GIS they learned it was owned by the City.  They made a few phone calls and learned Parks and Rec was in control of the land and it was being reserved for future development for recreation (at the time there was nothing out there but the pavilion).  The coaches approached P&R about building a rugby pitch, and were told to “submit a proposal.”

Building a field was out of the question for us (again, just to pay for referees, travel, registration costs etc. we were ending up in the red and chipping in personally trying to get the team going).  You need land, you would need to level the land, and you need posts. Of course parking, bleachers, bathrooms and trashcans are also a plus.

Thankfully, P&R stepped in as a partner and approved the proposal.  They already owned the land.  They worked with Linn State Tech students to have the land graded and seeded.  (Fun fact, you can’t just start playing on it immediately after they do this, you have to let the grass grow for a year.  You can however, make several trips to the field to “check on it” and admire it while you wait.) So P&R put up permanent posts. There was already parking and restrooms nearby, thanks to the pitch’s proximity to the Katy Trail. This sounds easy, but it was a long process.  A lot of work by a lot of creative community minded people went into it.

There are limitations.  No permanent structures allowed (it is a flood plain).  So a team supporter (ahem, my father-in-law) purchased a Doolittle cargo trailer to hold all of the team’s equipment.  And there were obstacles, significant obstacles.  As in, clearance from the federal government.

That is right, we needed FAA clearance to make the project happen.  The pitch is also in close proximity to the Airport (hence, it can never have stadium-like lights).  Apparently the FAA needed assurances that no, you cannot kick a rugby ball high enough to hit the airplanes that are trying to land across the highway.

And that my friends is how you get one of the best rugby fields in all of Missouri.  It really is a win, win. P&R did something we didn’t have the ability to do on our own and now we will pay them forever (and ever and ever) for the use of the field.  In addition, other groups can use the field for a fee as well.

The area has also sprung to life with the addition of a multipurpose field (which is currently serving as a temporary practice rugby field) and 2 youth baseball fields.

Team Picture on the New Pitch.

Team Picture on the New Pitch.

The State Championship

At the time, rugby was set up in a regional format.  Sometime in 2009, discussions began about a state rugby tournament.  It could have been after the trip with 30 high schoolers to Tulsa for a regional tournament, where it rained 16 inches in the same weekend, but I’ve tried to block that out.

Regardless, the three Jefferson City coaches began discussing the idea of a state rugby tournament — What if we had a tournament?  What if we called it the State Championship?  We are the state capital after all.  Who would challenge us or tell us no?  More importantly?  Who might help us?  Thankfully, Parks and Recreation and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau stepped in, as did a number of corporate sponsors.

We printed t-shirts and ran a concession stand.  Because at 25 for people who’ve never been in food service, it makes perfect sense to just host a concession stand for hundreds of people on your own (with lots of team parent volunteers, of course), right?  You just go to Sam’s Club and front all the money personally right?  Looking back on it I can’t help but laugh.   (Pro tip:  Loading up your beat-up 90s blazer with all liquids, mostly gatorade, is a good way to pop a tire).

And you know what?  It totally worked.  We actually made some money.  And, at least some kids in Missouri could finally claim they were the “rugby state champions.”  I’m sure this story is not unique and if you asked around you could find dozens of other people making other great events happen already, right here in JCMO.

We actually hosted the championship for two more years before the other teams figured out – hey, we should get to host too.  And because the ratio of teams in STL and Kansas City to teams in Jefferson City is 13 to 1, they could have easily argued that the state tournament belonged in only one of the major metros. But there were some JCMO champions in that discussion, and now we are on a rotating cycle between STL, KC and JCMO, hosting the tournament every third year.

So, if you want to join us, Jefferson City Rugby Club plays at 11 am on Saturday and they’d love your support.  While you are over there you could take a quick stroll or ride on the Katy Trail, visit one of the city’s newest playgrounds, the city’s dog park, or the Noren river access.

Rugby Missouri State Championship JCMO

Final Thoughts

We can all come up with a lot of excuses.  We don’t have the funds.  We don’t have the facilities — or nice enough facilities.  But sometimes you just have to be a little scrappy.  You have to rely on teamwork.  You too, could be a few bucks, many hours of work, a popped tire, and a little FAA clearance away from realizing your dream. (Don’t get me wrong, if we ever win the lottery JCMO will be home of the first-ever high school rugby dome, but until then…we will keep building, one step at a time).

After all, there are thirty kids a year who now have the opportunity to learn and participate in a sport they would not have otherwise had (and more than a dozen that have gone on to play rugby in college or men’s league).  We also have 200+players and their families coming to town this weekend (and hopefully every third year into the future) that ten years ago, no one would have even dreamed about.  It’s these little things that are the building blocks for bigger and better things to come.

A huge thank you to all the people in the community who have been involved in making this weekend a reality.

Rugby #JCMO

A little teamwork goes a long way.


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