World-class Rugby in Alaska? You Bet!

David Todd / Special to the Glacier City Gazette A live match at Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds in July 2014.
David Todd / Special to the Glacier City Gazette
A live match at Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds in July 2014.

By Sue Todd
Glacier City Gazette

Rugby, a sport so popular in Europe, South Africa, Polynesia, New Zealand and Australia, has been in its infancy in North America for decades. Things are quickly changing though. Having been a fan of the sport myself for over 25 years, I have seen it played on many a make-shift field.

A rugby field, or pitch, is larger than an American football field, so finding a suitable location to play has always posed a challenge in North America. Park strips and high school football fields, though not ideal, are often resorted to. Here in Alaska, however, rugby is moving into full-blown adolescence, because here exists the Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds, the result of a dream.

Justin Green, owner of Alaska Demolition, had a vision. He had played rugby in England as a boy at St. Lawrence College. Later, he played at Washington State University. When he returned to Alaska, he longed to bring rugby back with him. Over beers with his buddies, he shared on a cocktail napkin his vision of the future of rugby in Alaska. He saw a full-sized pitch, with a clubhouse overlooking it and a view of the mountains. In his dream, the sport of rugby would flourish, and international teams would tour. His friends thought he was nuts. Nuts or not, Green doggedly pursued his dream.

Fast-forward almost a decade, and Green’s vision is now a reality. Majestically seated in the hillside of south Anchorage, the Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds provide a world-class pitch for rugby matches. Spectators enjoy a spectacular view of Mount Susitna, and the grounds rival any facility in the world. With a regulation-sized pitch, a clubhouse, dormitories, a weight room, and showers, the facility is a dream come true for any touring side.

A project this size was not accomplished alone, and it was with the hard work and support of his friends and fellow rugby supporters that it was accomplished. In Green’s dream, the sport of rugby would grow through a youth program, and Alaska Youth Rugby was formed.

Craig Cornichuk, long-time member of the Bird Creek Barbarians, spearheaded Alaska Youth Rugby, and he has taken the youth organization from only 60-70 players in 2014 to 324 players this year. The core values of rugby union are instilled in the players: teamwork, discipline, enjoyment, sportsmanship, and respect. The intention is to introduce rugby to children, leading to a lifetime of love for the sport.

Training for both boys and girls is offered at various locations, depending on what is convenient for the player: Goldenview Middle School in South Anchorage, Gruening Middle School in Eagle River, or Delaney Park Strip downtown. Though the current season is reaching an end, it will resume in October. You can follow the Facebook page, “Alaska Youth Rugby Club,” to get news on the upcoming schedule.

While other sports can be very costly, rugby is offered to children at just the cost of USA Rugby insurance ($5 to $20, depending on age). A pair of cleats is the only required equipment. Compare this to the cost of any other sport, and you will find rugby is a true bargain.

As this article goes to publication, a Youth Rugby Camp, is being held at Delaney Park Strip. Mangatainoka Barbarians, a group of former New Zealand All Blacks and Super 18 Rugby players, are sharing with the youth program their passion for the sport. This once-in-a-lifetime experience may be the catalyst for future dreamers.

Coming up on July 13 from 7-9 p.m., Mangatainoka Barbarians will play Alaska Old Oosiks (Alaska ruggers over the age of 35) at the Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds. This match is open to the public, and is a monumental step in Justin’s dream of hosting international teams.

On July 15, starting at 9 a.m., the biggest international event in Alaska Rugby history, Alaska Ruggerfest, will be held at the grounds. Womens All-stars, Mens All-Stars, Old Oosiks, Classic Canadians, Classic USA players, and Mangatainoka Barbarians will be competing throughout the day.

This is an opportunity to see rugby at its best on one of the most beautiful pitches in the world. (Some believe it is the most beautiful pitch in the world.) If for no other reason, come out and see the haka (traditional war dance) performed by the New Zealand athletes. It will send chills up the spine.

As with all events at Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds, there is no admission, though donations to Alaska Youth Rugby are welcome and appreciated.

Just to clarify, Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds are situated at the residence of Justin Green. He has opened his home and his heart to the rugby world. This is done not as a means of profit, but for his love of the sport and his sincere wish to keep rugby alive and growing in the great State of Alaska and in the U.S.

The magnificent facility is making headlines around the world. The Women’s National Sevens Rugby Team has used it twice for Olympic training. Several clubs from across North America have come to Alaska for playing tours, hosted by the Alaska Rugby Union and Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds. Rugby World filmed a documentary as well. The field is located at 19001 Finland St, Anchorage. Bring your lawn chair and settle in for a great weekend of rugby. Keep on dreaming, Justin.

Visit www.alaskarugby.org to learn more about Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds.

Sue Todd / Glacier City Gazette The field and building on Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds.
Sue Todd / Glacier City Gazette
The field and building on Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds.
Sue Todd / Glacier City Gazette The clubhouse
Sue Todd / Glacier City Gazette
The clubhouse