Bruce McLane is the head coach at Super League champion NYAC, a JV coach at Xavier High School in Manhattan and a member of the Ruggamatrix America podcast crew.
Many times people only describe being a quality club based on game performances and championships. I am not saying that this doesn’t matter, as obviously I think it does, but there are other factors in play as well, and I hope to show a few examples.
Most of us chose to play rugby because it was something fun that we did with our friends and we could challenge ourselves athletically. I think that a lot of the fun has been taken away from rugby. It seems that the only time many people want to play is when it leads to a championship.
When was the last time a club team took a major tour? These were always great bonding experiences. What happened to the must attend tournaments like Monterey, Saranac, Washington Irish St. Patty’s Day, Savannah, The Monmouth tournament, Fort Lauderdale, etc. They’ve either disappeared or dwindled or became old boy or schoolboy festivals.
I personally know that the Xavier kids love the Jesuit Cup. I loved playing in many of these tournaments, both on and off the field. Have we lost sight of the fun of rugby? Now it seems about paperwork, documentation, dues, dozens of competitive must-play games. I and my club are part and parcel to that competitive stuff as well, but I still like it pigeonholed into a brief period that is manageable. I am not really going to highlight things top clubs do, but other clubs that should be heralded as much as big clubs.
All that said, look at Union and Morris from New Jersey. They both have extensive youth flag programs for thousands of kids every summer, bracketed by age and run by countless parents and volunteers. That, to me, is one of the definitions of a good club. Monmouth Rugby club took money that they raised and built a clubhouse in Red Bank, NJ that they have sustained and improved over the course of almost 20 years, providing enjoyment to members and people in the community. That to me is the sign of a good club.
Rob Holder took a small group in East Palo Alto with sero resources and put out several Eagles and went camping to save money on hotels during playoff runs. That has been the foundation for the Spearhead Rugby Academy in Minnesota, which has provided Eagle 7s players and U-20 players. That to me is a good club.
Mark Griffin of Old Blue put together support, both paid and volunteer, throughout the New York area from clubs like NYRC, Village Lions, Rockaway, NYAC. That to me is a good club. NYRC runs a Thanksgiving 7s tournament that is reasonably competitive but international in scope and fantastic in fun and camaraderie. That is part of being a good club.
Santa Monica’s Stu Krohn takes very poor inner city kids to New Zealand on tour and provides them with total access to the best of the best that rugby has to offer, both on the field in Super Rugby, and off the field with hosting, etc. That too is the sign of a good club.
Glendale built a stadium and has rugby on TV regularly, and did it from scratch from the Kudu rugby side a few years ago, that provided many Eagles and age-grade reps. That too is a good club.
White Plains runs a tournament for Jo Jo Moore, a paralyzed player, which more than raising money, keeps friendships alive and vibrant, that to me is a good club.
There are countless examples, and I’ve provided a few. Good clubs do it for the right reasons -- they have fun with it and they appreciate their time together. I wouldn’t trade anything for the friendships that I’ve made in rugby over the course of the past 30 years. That to me is the legacy of the game. Wins and losses come and go, but friends last a lifetime.
I think we should enjoy and cultivate those friendships and give back our time and energy to the game when possible and appreciate all of the laughs, sadness, and shared memories. It is the greatest game in the world for those reasons alone. No other sport has it quite like we do, and we must strive to keep that alive.
These people that you meet in this game are generally great people who’d give you the shirt off their back. Let’s make sure we remember that it is enjoyment and friendship that brought us to this great game. We need to make that priority one.