1,050 players registered for the competition in last weekend’s championship rounds at Youth Rugby Jamboree VI, held at TrailWinds Park in North Denver on Saturday. The event was organized and sponsored by Denver Parks & Recreation (DP&R) with the vital assistance of Denver CERT and ARES emergency responder groups, and featured age-level competitions from U-7 co-ed to U-17 Girls and U-15 Boys.
DP&R’s Curt Garrett credits the hard work of a volunteer core of folks such as Justin Tafoya, who along with brother Josh enables the function of Central Denver’s 303 youth RFC.
“This is all due to the efforts of our support cadre of volunteer coaches and the parents who assist their children’s rugby experience on a day-to-day basis,” Garrett said.
Cecil Hitzges, 2016 Olympic Sport Catchment Director of Northside Dragons Rugby, a metro Denver youth club started in 2010, knows about humble beginnings.
“When we started our program, we had five kids in five different age groups. Two years ago, we joined with Denver Lions’ sides for the Jamborees," she said. "This year we’ve more than 150 players in thirteen teams from U-7 coed up to U-17 girls and U-15 boys.”
Dave Cook is the volunteer coordinator for FEMA’s fundamental grassroots entities, CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and ARES, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Resource for the City and County of Denver. These are first-responder organizations providing radio communications infrastructure and ancillary support to coordinate relief efforts should a natural, or otherwise significant, disaster occur.
During the North American Blackout (2003) and Hurricane Katrina (2005) amateur radio (ham) systems were used to enable aid activities when other systems (cell, landlines, etc.) failed. Cook donates his groups’ time and efforts in communicating score reports, field setup and assisting in the many other activities that make the Jamboree the estimable success it is.
Bill Gregg is the man who’s to blame for Colorado’s youth rugby craze. Along with brother, Joel, he began a youth program in Parker, CO last century and has dedicated himself to the grassroots expansion of his beloved sport since then: “It is good to see this turnout,” he muses, “and it’s only going to get better, eh?".
Denver Lions, Mountain Youth and Boulder Lions RFCs all have seen their numbers increase dramatically the past few years. Their coaches speak to rugby’s continuum:
John Barkmeier, who played representative side in his day for West Mustangs (one of four US territorial union sides), is organizer of Boulder Lions youth club along with fellow rugby warrior Jim Bruce, and is involved in rugby’s entire continuum-scope as he plays “Olde Boys plus” for the Boulder RFC’s more mature side. His son, Charlie, began his career with Boulder Lions, continued with the Boulder area high school side, and now is a standout lock/8th-man for University of Colorado’s college premier division rugby side. “We’re now seeing players who have moved through our (academy) system and are playing for our men’s club. 40% of last year’s high school Boulder Lions team played in our youth program.”
Hugh Miller is the coach of PAC RFC, Colorado’s Division II high school boys’ champions, and he oversees a youth program in our Front Range Foothills. He has a unique perspective as, in addition to his all-encompassing administrative work, he yet finds time to strap on his boots and step out for the Denver Harlequins men’s clubside on occasion: “We started Mountain Youth three years ago and now count over 120 players on the club. Over one-third of the starters from our Colorado State Championship team came through our youth program. I now have more players not only playing rugby when they go on to college, but some are choosing certain schools because of their rugby programs.”
Denver Lions coach Jamie Graves, former Denver Barbarians pivot, is enthused by what he sees as youth rugby’s exponential growth: “We started with 10 kids five years ago and now count over 80 in our program. I see the youth league as a preparatory-developmental organ for our high school sides.” Graves’ club hosted a Jamboree in June that numbered nearly one thousand attendees.
With the type of dedication and determination exhibited by parent- and professional-volunteers, and the action in evidence on the dozen pitches at TrailWinds Saturday, everyone wins, but the ultimate benefactor is USA Rugby and the Eagles.