The profile of rugby in Columbus is about to raise to a higher level.
With two big events in the next month and the beginning of a Rookie Rugby program, local rugby leaders are hoping the sport will see a big growth. Columbus will host an Alumni Game on April 12 and the Big Ten Universities Rugby 7s Championship on April 19 at Richard Wigh Soccer Center.
“It’s awesome,” Columbus Rugby Football Club president Travis Perry said. “It’s a great opportunity for Columbus to get a Big Ten tournament. We have some of the best fields in the state, if not the Midwest, to play rugby on. It’s good for the sport in Columbus. Our parks department is second to none. We have some great stuff to play on.”
Columbus was able to land the Big Ten event thanks largely to the efforts of Big Ten Universities Rugby Conference commissioner Marcus Hurley. Hurley lives in Columbus, was a founding member of Columbus Rugby Club, which began in 1997 with a high school team, and has been involved off an on with the club since then.
Hurley played for Columbus and at Indiana University. He coached the Columbus team that won the 2005 state high school title and coached IU Mudsharks (rugby club) for a couple years. Hurley played with the Columbus Rugby Football Club men’s program last year before being injured.
Hurley attended the CRFC’s preseason meeting this year and mentioned the possibility of landing the Big Ten 7s. He asked the club if it could secure the fields and help with the volunteering and setup.
“I love the community and have been a 20-year advocate of rugby,” Hurley said. “We started hosting championship events here in 2007 and 2008 and realized the potential for the community to be a great partner. The parks department and restaurants, and with downtown being revitalized, there is so much to offer here.”
Columbus beat out Ohio State University to host the Big Ten 7s. Michigan State and Penn State have already secured spots in the College Rugby Championships, but if another team wins the Big Ten event, it would also qualify.
“We’re trying to grow the sport and improve and grow the services that I’m able to provide as commissioner of the Big Ten,” Hurley said. “I think this is going to be a model not only for the Big Ten but other conferences our size. There’s always the potential we’ll bring the event back in the future.”
A week before the Big Ten 7s, CRFC will host an Alumni Game. The men’s team is scheduled to play Queen City at 1 p.m. that day, and what is called a “Third Half” will start around 3 p.m. The alumni will play 30 minutes of tackle and about 45 minutes of touch in that Third Half.
The cost to play is $10. Perry said he’s received a lot of response from former players and parents of kids.
“That’s a big deal for us,” Perry said. “We’ve had lots and lots of kids who have played rugby here in town, so we’ve talked about an alumni game the last couple of years. We have the volunteers to make that happen. There’s some pretty good support behind it, so I’m looking forward to it.”
The club will hold an Alumni Social for ages 21 and older at 6 p.m. that evening at Factory 12 Event Loft. The cost is $40 and is a fundraiser to provide scholarships for the Rookie Rugby program in elementary schools.
The Rookie Rugby program for third- and fourth-graders will run from April 7 to May 26 at Parkside, Southside, Smith and Taylorsville Elementaries. St. Bartholomew kids and those from other elementary schools in town can also participate at Parkside.
Practices will be at 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays until the final six weeks until the final six weeks, when a game will replace one of the practices each week. Flags will be used.
Foundation For Youth has hosted an after-school touch rugby program the past two years on Saturdays from May through July. Last spring, a youth developer came down from Indianapolis and blitzed Parkside, Smith and Southside Elementaries, bringing rugby to 700 fifth- and sixth-graders over a two-week period.
“That was a pretty decent showing, depending on the weekends,” Perry said. “Some of the parents were thrilled with it and wanted to make a league with it. That’s something we had talked about doing anyway.”