Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cleveland Rivalry Dies to Give Birth to New Possibilities

In 1964 rugby came to Cleveland, Ohio, and practically since then there have been two teams representing the city. Most recently, the two teams calling the coasts of Lake Erie home have been the Cleveland Rovers and Cleveland Rugby Club. Over the years, the two have made almost identical strides as individual separate entities. Now, they are making a move that will, hopefully, lead rugby in the city down a better path and bring championship acclaim to the city.

The East side and West side teams are merging to form a single, driving rugby force in the city. Over the years the two sides have had similar success to one another, often mirroring each other's success during the regular season only to face each other in playoffs or stall out against similar opponents. The primary goal driving this merger is to add the depth and experience needed for the players to be able to compete effectively for a championship; and though the idea for this merger has been floating around for a while, now it has gone from notion to necessity.

"This has always been talked about, always been a dream," said Derek Imes, treasurer of the Rovers. "It needs to be done for the strength, the unity, of the city. Merging everything together and pooling all those resources is going to help us change and grow a lot better than we would have been able to separately."

The plan for the merger is to unite the teams under one banner and field two sides in different leagues. The top team will compete in Division II, while the developmental team will compete in Division III or IV at the same time. This set-up was chose because it has been proven to work with other teams in the Midwest, Red River Rugby Conference and on the West Coast and because it benefits the highly-skilled players as well as the developing talent.

"The effects could be great for Cleveland," said Nick Viviani, captain of the Cleveland Rugby Club. "We won’t lose college talent to other premier programs. We can start competing at a high level in sevens and 15s. That could entice more good talent to come to Cleveland.  With high school rugby in the northeastern Ohio growing like it is, it will be great to get one premier program for all the talent to go to."

"Being able to field two sides every weekend that can play competitive, meaningful rugby is important to the club moving forward," Imes said. The top-tier team will attract the collegiate talent coming out of places like Bowling Green State University, Miami of Ohio and other clubs like those, while the lower tier side gives players with other obligations and more learning left to do a chance to sharpen their skills and get the experience they need.

Where this merger is very much about the future of the club, some are of the mindset that it defiles the history of Cleveland rugby. Both teams coming into this union have proud and lengthy histories with them. The Rovers have been a constant name in the city of Cleveland since 1978, and the Cleveland Rugby Club traces its roots back even farther. While there has been push-back from the contingency of older players and club members, the group spearheading this movement recognizes what has led up to this point as well as what needs to be done to move beyond it.

"For this to happen, each side has to make sacrifices for the greater good, for better rugby," Imes said. "We are willing to sacrifice what we need to sacrifice to make it happen because we believe in the greater good."

"There is a lot of emotional attachment to the Cleveland Rovers, which I share myself," said Terry Kilbane, Rovers' president since 2010. "Some people will resist change. It's completely understandable. This is a bold new vision of what the Cleveland Rovers stood for: Cleveland rugby. Our hope is that all rugby players in Cleveland will see this."

According to Imes, the common bond that brings everyone together is playing good quality rugby. The social side is certainly part of the equation but playing rugby is of paramount importance. Having quality rugby available will not only give incoming players an attractive team to play for but it will make the sacrifices for older players more worthwhile as they pursue their careers and welcome children into the world.

The execution of this merger is going to be tricky. On top of dealing with egos and clashing styles, there are also difficult logistical waters that must be navigated. Then there's always the challenging task of settling on a name.

The plan on the field is simple, though. According to Imes, within five years, the newly-minted team will make an impact on the national level by competing in, and hopefully winning, a National Title match.


  1. love it JR...my thoughts exactly LOL

  2. This is a fantastic article, and I'm excited for rugby in Cleveland.

  3. wow, I love that this is happening. Cannot wait to hear and see more of this.

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