Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cincinnati Academy Looks to Bring Advanced Training to Promising Players

The Cincinnati accounts for most of the rugby teams in the state. Between the Wolfhounds, Kelts Queen City, the high school teams and various colleges in the area, the rugby talent pool in the area is deep as well as wide. With all the promising players in the area it is imperative that there be an institution to ensure that can ensure that all these players receive the best rugby education the area can provide. That's where Darryl Rice, Al Lucas and John Fox come into play. These three men are the primary minds behind the Cincinnati Rugby Academy, a place that aims to provide top-tier rugby instruction for promising players at the bottom of the state.
Logo for the Cincinnati Rugby Academy in Ohio
The Cincinnati Rugby Football Academy

The idea for what would be come the Cincinnati Rugby Academy had been brewing in the minds of all three men for a while, separately, but around the turn of the 2000s the plan began to take shape as the three began to come together and share their individual thoughts.

"When I was president of the Cincinnati Rugby Football Club from 2000 through 2002 it was always a goal of mine to start an Academy," Rice said. "I have always felt that giving the area youth proper coaching and training would benefit the Cincinnati area rugby clubs both the colleges and clubs."

According to Rice, Lucas introduced him to Fox after a spring match the Wolfhounds' Division III side just finished playing, and Fox explained his idea to the two of them. The meeting would prove to be the perfect blend needed to get their plan off the ground. At that time Rice was a trustee for the Midwest Developmental Rugby Foundation and got the other two an audience with his constituents. Lucas and Fox had all the experience with past successful developmental programs needed to put together a solid plan for Cincinnati and the confidence to back their initiative.

Prior to getting involved with the Cincinnati academy, Lucas had worked with a program in Morris County New Jersey that had seen a great deal of success and brought in an abundance of new rugby players during his time there.

"We had over one thousand kids in the, program ranging from ages seven to 19 years old," Lucas said. "The program was extremely well run and recently provided two players to the National U-19 Girls team, which just competed in China, including the Captain of the side. I wanted to bring the type of youth program I had just been a part of to our area."

Not only had Fox coached at a nearly every level of rugby imaginable, he had also been a part of a successful established rugby academy.

"I had five coaching stints, starting in 1989 with the University of Arkansas; then 1993 with Mount St. Mary's College; then 2010 with the Frederick Falcons and the Potomac Rugby Union High School All-Stars. I am currently a coaching consultant for the undefeated Cincinnati Women Kelts RFC," Fox said. "I was fortunate enough to be a Director with the Potomac Rugby Academy. We produced 17 High School All-Americans in the last two years. I lived in Maryland and our U19 all-star teams made it to the finals of the Potomac Challenge Cup the four years I coached and ran the program.  I was also fortunate to be part of a group that included Peter Baggetta, Farrah Douglas, Lee Kelly, Paolo Iscaro, James Aitken, Jim Bonner and Kurt Mockenhaupt, the brain trust of the academy."

So, to say that what would be the Cincinnati academy was in good hands would be an understatement. Even though these successful and passionate men were backing the idea, there were still obstacles and difficulties they had to face once they received the blessing of the MDRF. Though this dynamic trio was steering the ship, they would need the support of the entire region to make it a reality. Early on in the developmental stage, Lucas had worked with Bill Griffes in an effort to reach out to more high school and youth programs. As life often dictates, Griffes had to leave the position he was in and focus on other facets of his life. With Griffes gone, there was a big hole left in their outreach efforts, a hole that would be tough to fill. The way to fill this hole, according to Lucas - get high schools, clubs and colleges to buy in to the idea that the academy would benefit everyone rather than just one team.
Serge Betsen(l) and Luke Gross(r) were the key instructors at
the  Academy's initial set of clinics in Cincinnati.

"I think there is still some residual resistance from some schools and clubs that are concerned that the academy is only focused on developing players for one local club," Lucas said. "However, both John and I are considered by many to be 'outsiders' because of our long-term involvement in rugby in other parts of the country. So, many of the clubs and schools see some distance between us and our local club, allowing us to be more inclusive. We have constantly reached out to schools from Columbus and Dayton to get their kids involved along with all of the local high schools."

Despite initial skepticism surrounding the intentions of the academy, the three men have strived to put together successful events despite this push-back. One example of this perseverance was when the Academy hosted their large clinics with Serge Betsen and Luke Gross. To ensure that they were successful as well as inclusive they made sure to invite every club and school in the entire state.

"We want to be inclusive, not exclusive," Lucas said.

Getting backing from the community wasn't the only issue the only obstacle the men faced in establishing the Academy. According to Fox, on top of convincing the community they were out to help everyone not just themselves, they had to face the usual litany of rugby problems. There were concerns around getting enough students and raising enough funds, for starters, as well as making sure the right people were involved running the programs. Fortunately, groups have come together to help alleviate the pressure from these issues.

"We are fortunate to be part of the Midwest Rugby Foundation who have helped us financially," Fox said. "We are still getting more students each session due to the fall sports schedule. There is a great team of rugby knowledge that runs this Academy. Thanks to the help of Al Lucas, ORU President, and Darryl Rice, Midwest Rugby Foundation President, we have been able to assemble a group of quality instructors and session topics for our students."

The Cincinnati Rugby Academy has already brought international-level talent to the southern wilds of the Buckeye State. Now, they are looking toward the future and bringing more people into the fold. In just under 14 years, Al Lucas, John Fox and Darryl Rice have taken the Academy from an idea into a full fledged entity attracting a lot of attention for its initiatives and endeavors. Those looking to get involved need only keep their eyes and ears open because it's fair to say there's more to come from the Cincinnati Rugby Academy.

1 comment:

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