Although at first watch (and listen), rugby - a distinctive form of contact football that developed in the early part of the 19th century at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England - may seem complex, it’s simply a game, nay, a brotherhood (and in some cases, sisterhood) long forged in competitive camaraderie.
The Johnson City Rugby Football Club (JCRFC) - soon-to-be called the Tri-Cities Rugby Football Club - was established as a non-profit organization in 1981 by English immigrant Peter Cholerton who recruited area men and students from East Tennessee State University (ETSU) to join. As their numbers increased, so did the club’s level of professionalism. The registered men’s rugby team began entering rugby sevens - markedly played with seven competitors per team - and fifteens - 15 players per team - and over the years, has seen many sponsors and been met with “varying degrees of success.”
JCRFC members past and present have played for the USA Rugby South (USAR) team, and one member played for the USA Eagles Sevens squad. In 2010 and 2011, the men’s club were consecutive MidSouth Rugby Football Union champions.
Lately, JCRFC is making moves to rebuild its membership, secure new sponsors and revamp the club image to be that of a more philanthropic, community club. One step has been the organization’s impending name change from Johnson City to Tri-Cities Rugby Football Club.
“We not only want to revamp the club, but to open it up to Bristol and Kingsport,” said JCRFC President Cory “Cotton” Jones. “After Blue Plum [Sevens tournament], we’ll switch everything over.”
Jones said that the rugby squad is 13 members strong at present, but they really need 20 to 40 men to fully satisfy their goal of being a competitive, social men’s club. “We want to build so that we have club success for years to come; to make the Tri-Cities proud,” he explained.
JCRFC practice is from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. every Thursday on the soccer fields at Science Hill High School. Men 18 and older of any size, shape and skill level are invited to attend and play. Especially on “Rookie Thursday” held the second Thursday of each month during which “we talk about the basics of rugby. We will teach you the game,” Jones stated resolutely. “You don’t have to be a pro... You just need a pair of shorts, socks and cleats.”
“Come to practice and see if you like it,” added JCRFC captain Ryan Moor. “Then, decide if you want to become a member.”
Once a definitive decision is reached, members are asked to pay their club dues - $100 a year goes toward referee, field and after-match social fees. Also, in regulation with USA Rugby, of which JCRFC is a part, a registered member must fulfill certain requirements including the annual (roughly) $60 purchase of Certified Individual Player Participant (CIPP) to be insured on the field, enter USA Rugby events, and be eligible for league matches. (To learn more about USA Rugby rules and regulations, you can visit www.USARugby.org.)
“It’s very cost-efficient,” Jones determined. “Rugby is probably one of the most affordable sports you can play.”
JCRFC, as part of the Carolina Union, either hosts tournaments in its home city or travels to nearby competitions in Knoxville, Tenn.; Asheville, N.C.; or as far as Chattanooga, Tenn.; or Charleston, S.C. To fund club matches, Moor said JCRFC is actively seeking sponsorships at this time.
On the other end, the rugby football team would like to support local charities by playing games to fundraise for their cause.
“We do want to start doing more charity work in the community and give back to them,” Jones said.
JCRFC is involved in community outreach events to raise awareness about the club and the game of rugby itself. At First Friday in Johnson City (held on the first Friday of each month), JCRFC sets up an informative ‘meet-and-greet’ booth complete with drinks, snacks and a hands-on demonstration - a suspended tire through which passersby are encouraged to underhand pass a rugby ball.
Players also once organized a friendly match at Boones Creek Middle School for the Fountain of Life Church youth to observe and learn the rugby basics. “We were introducing them to rugby as an alternative to football,” Moor examined. “They seemed to enjoy learning how to play.”
Jones continued, “We also want to promote youth rugby and get [a team] started in the next couple years.”
For more information on the Johnson City Rugby Football Club, search them on Facebook or call 423-390-8248.