SportsEvents Magazine

JUL 2018

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July 2018 28 sanction high school rugby but we hope they aren't the last. We are actually working on several other states to move them in the same direction." Recently, USA Rugby has seen a growth in girls' and women's rugby. Currently, ap- proximately 22 percent of its membership – approximately 28,000 of its registered members – fall into that category but the organization wants that number to continue to increase and is working to get more girls in on the game. To make that happen, the organization has partnered with Girls Rug- by, an organization that provides access for girls to learn the skills and values associated with the sport, to offer a curriculum-based program for high school girls using the rules of flag rugby. "Girls Rugby does a great job with their programs and they take a sport that looks rather rough and make it more approachable," Weaver said. Rookie Rugby is another way USA Rugby has tried to remove the stigma of the sport being "too rough." The non-contact youth rugby program began in 2007 and won the IRB – International Rugby Board, now World Rugby – Development Award in 2011. Since then millions of kids have gone through the program that enables them to enjoy rugby without the harsh physical contact. "It's a great way for kids to get involved and start their careers while play- ing non-contact," Weaver said. "Parents can let their kids try it without worrying about contact and, if they want, the kids can play non-contact rugby throughout the entire time in rugby. We have youth and adult non-contact leagues available." A major event in the sport – the Collegiate Rugby Championships – was held in June at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia (Pa.), with 24 men's teams and 12 women's teams competing. Also included were 300 high school teams; in recent years, the event has added a high school tournament as well. "This event has grown by leaps and bounds," said PHL Sports and Philadelphia CVB Executive Director Larry Needle. "It has been exciting to see the growth. The event drew more than 27,000 fans over two days." This year boasted a record-setting crowd during the Saturday pool play competition. In addition, the event was broadcast on the ESPN 2 and ESPN+. "From both a team-participation and attendance stand- point, the event has continued to expand and grow every year," said Jeff McDowell of United World Sports. "As the sport continues to grow nationally and more crossover athletes begin to enter the sport, we expect to see increased success from the U.S. national team and, as a result, expo- nential growth in awareness and interest in the sport." McDowell also expects to continue hosting the event in Philadelphia. "Philadel- phia's central location within the Northeast corridor, its high concentration of colleges and universities, combined with the city's passionate sports fan base, make it an ideal host," he said. "In the same way that Omaha has become the home of college baseball, our vision is to make Philadelphia the official home of college rugby." Another hotbed for the sport has been Colorado, specifically the city of Glendale, which is home to Infinity Park – a venue known as RugbyTown USA. The city and venue will play host to the opening round for the 2018-19 HSBC World Rugby Wom- en's Sevens Series in October. The facility is no stranger to hosting rugby: in the past, it has hosted numerous other champion- ships and is home to the Glendale Raptors, a Major League Rugby (MLR) team. MLR launched in 2017 and Glendale is one of the founding cities. To date, the league has seven teams: the Glendale Raptors, Austin (Texas) Elite, Houston SaberCats, Utah Warriors, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and New Orleans Gold. In 2019, the league plans to introduce three more teams, one based in New York and another in Washington D.C., with the third not yet finalized. "In Seattle, they sold out every one of the home games and the crowds at all games have been really positive," said Mark Bullock, general manager for the City of Glendale and director of rugby for the Glendale Raptors. "There has been quite a bit of buzz, which is significant as the league just officially played its first game in April 2018." In addition to offering rugby athletes a professional league, the MLR is also providing serious audiences. The league has broadcast deals with CBS Sports Network, ESPN, AT&T and Cox. "It's great exposure," Bullock said. "We feel that if American spectators have a chance to watch rugby they will became fans of the game because it's truly an American game in that it has a lot of contact, it's fast-paced and it goes from offense to defense." Now with Major League teams and a spot in the Olympics, rugby is in the spot- light more than ever. Young rugby players today are being introduced to the game and being shown that the opportunities to play are seemingly endless. And with the return of the Summer Olympics to the United States in 2028 in Los Angeles, that's just another opportunity to let the sport shine and expose the country and the rest of the world to the wonderful world of rugby. n t SPORT Report USA Rugby USA Rugby's membership includes 28,000 girls & women.

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