Eastern Rockies Rugby Football Union kicked off its inaugural Division III league competition last weekend with a fixture between Casper (WY) Cannibals RFC and Colorado Rush RFC. Cannibals wound up on the front end of a lopsider, but the news was all about ERRFU’s new league, comprised of six regional clubs: Anarchists (Colorado Springs), Casper Cannibals, Colorado Rush (Denver), Grand Junction (CO), Tigers (Broomfield, CO), and Wolverines (Denver) RFCs.
There had always been talk of forming a Division III league in ERRFU, but it took the perseverance and dedication of one individual, former Denver Harlequins head coach Scott Pointdexter, to bring that dream to fruition. “I worked closely with Rich Cortez, president of the (local) union. My initial thought was that the league would be made up of Div II clubs’ second sides, but evidently there was a call for rugby in some of our outlying areas also,” reports the redoubtable “Pointy”.
Though most (4 from 6) of the D III league’s clubs are located along the 100-mile long Colorado Springs-Denver-Fort Collins urban-‘burban corridor, Grand Junction (CO) and Casper (WY) are well-removed from that mainstream. Grand Junction is 230 miles west of Denver and Casper is nearly 300 miles to the northwest of Colorado’s capitol and rugby central, raising formidable logistic issues.
“We’ve away matches 4 of the next 6 weekends,” says Casper Cannibals stalwart and founder, Chris Wohletz. He has been working at forming a club for nearly 20 years in his town. “We’re on the road a bunch, but we manage by carpooling and overnighting with friends and relatives in the places we play in. We’ve 25 players CIPP-ed now and that includes my Dad, Jon Ledbetter, who also referees. Our plan is to start a U-19 team in the spring that can travel with us.”
Grand Junction finds themselves in similar straits as their nearest league competition is over two hundred miles away, though on occasion they’re able to set fixtures closer to home with mountain clubs in Colorado ski towns.
Jeremy Ballard, general manager of Colorado Rush RFC, says Denver Harlequins were instrumental in the Rush’s formation, “We played a couple of games as the Wildfire last year at Harlequins games, but have come together in D III as the Rush,” he states of the side which currently has the most players CIPP-ed at 28, and he echoes the most prevalent growing pain of start-ups the world over: “Consistent training attendance by individual players - that’s what we’re looking to instill in our club members. That’s what’ll make the difference when all is said and done.”
Shawn Kelley, who along with fellow player Chad Eberle formed Wolverines RFC, a Denver-based club reports, “We’re struggling right now for numbers, but we always manage to field a side for our matches. We’re making the run up to Casper for a match with the Cannibals over Labor Day weekend, and everybody’s really stoked for that team-building fixture.”
Broomfield Tigers RFC coach Michael O’Brian credits dad, Paul O’Brian (coach of the BT high school team), for his rugby inspiration: “We’ve got 20-25 players consistently training so we’re here to stay.” Adds the elder O’Brian, “We’ve been around a little over three years. We had been playing 7-a-side as high school alumni in the summer league for the past few years, and had our first 15s match in the spring of 2011.” Paul notes Dylan Lewis as the administrative genius behind Broomfield’s success, “Without Dylan’s consummate organizational efforts, we’d still be in the planning stages.” Looking to the future, P-O-B is positive: “Our inside and outside centers on the men’s team teach at different high schools in our catchment area, and we’re expecting an influx of U-19s from their workplaces as well next spring.”
Anarchists RFC: True to their name, this lawless bunch appears on the union website, but has no contact information, nor apparently can they be found in USARFU’s database, yet they are rumored to play (somewheres) and train somewheres else, on some days, at some times, in the Colorado Springs (CO) area, but that could not be confirmed.
At the end of the day, over one hundred more rugby players will be taking the pitch on weekends in ERRFU’s domain thanks to the grassroots efforts of the union and the D III clubs.