It may have started with a fistfight over flag football between two University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fraternities in the 1970s, but the city’s rugby movement is now focused on positioning the Scenic City as a thriving local, regional and national home for the sport.
This Saturday marks one stage in a much larger plan to move closer and closer to that goal.
—Matrix match: Competitive game played for standing within the division
—Try: Score worth five points
—Conversion kick: Kick worth two points
—Line-out: Set piece in which "lifters" lift a "jumper" into the air to compete for the ball, which is thrown in from the sideline
The newly debuted rugby park, Montague Park on East 23rd Street, will host three matches and a youth clinic for a full day—more than seven hours—of live rugby.
At 10 a.m., the high school game, pitting Chattanooga Wolfpack against Polk County, kicks off the day. A rugby clinic for inner city youth at 11 a.m. will is next on the schedule.
The Division III side of Chattanooga Rugby Football Club—Nooga Black—plays Nashville Posse at noon. The club’s Division II side—Nooga Red—takes on Nashville Rugby Football Club at 2 p.m.
UTC Women’s Rugby will play its first matrix match of the season against the University of Alabama at 4 p.m.
“We want to create a rugby-centric hub here in Chattanooga,” CRFC president Eric Johnson said. “With the rugby movement growing every day, there is a product, people and power in Chattanooga to capitalize on the movement and become a gem for the city of Chattanooga.”
From the foundation-up
CRFC historian Mike Ward tells a version about the club’s initial days that involved a fight between Kappa Sigma and Sigma Chi members and resulted in the former fraternity’s suspension from the flag football league.
Ten of the players opted to shelve the football altogether and pick up a rugby ball. The UTC team’s first match was a loss to Fort Campbell in Kentucky, but those 10 players established what has grown into more than 50 men and women participating in rugby year-round in Chattanooga.
CRFC was founded in 1978 by the same UTC players. Over the subsequent decades, the team has experienced the ups and downs of every sports program, which have been mirrored in the coming and going of high school—Notre Dame—and women’s—Chattanooga Women—teams.
However, thanks to the dedication of core members, the past several years have been a boom time for rugby in Chattanooga.
Currently, the city’s roster includes a budding high school team open to public, private or homeschool students; an emerging men’s team at UTC; an established UTC women’s team; and CRFC’s Division II and Division III teams at the senior men’s level.
The Division II team is vying for a regional, and potential national, title and is carrying a 3-0 record.
The clinic is part of the continued partnership between CRFC and Chattanooga Parks and Recreation. The city department will be providing transportation for a group of students from urban neighborhoods. CRFC players and former players will lead an hourlong introduction to the sport and basic skills.
“It is important to us to give back to the community, and working with inner city youth is a great way to do that,” said Steve Lofty, a longtime member of CRFC and one of the figures influentially involved in the construction of Montague Park. “Rugby can be a positive influence in the lives of these kids. We hope to give them the opportunity to realize it.”
In a similar community-based mindset, CRFC has grounded its growth in partnerships with local businesses through sponsorship arrangements. This season, the teams' sponsors include Mike's Hole in the Wall, Powerade, Budweiser, McDonald's and Results Physiotherapy, among others.
Montague Park continues to evolve, with plans to build a clubhouse, two additional fields and a sculpture garden.
“I personally would like to see a vibrant summer youth league as well as an adult recreational/flag rugby league,” he said. “All of that [could be] combined with eight to 10 high school men’s and women’s teams, feeding into college teams at UTC and at Chattanooga State. Those programs then [feed] into a couple or three D-3 teams, a D-2 team, a D-1 team and a Chattanooga women’s team—one great big happy rugby family.”
Updated @ 4:03 p.m. on 2/21/13 to add an extra event to the schedule: Chattanooga Wolfpack plays Polk County at 10 a.m.