Friday, August 7, 2015

Steel Valley Gets Grounded in New Neighborhoood

For most clubs, rugby can be a nomadic slow-moving life with teams fighting softball and flag football teams for park space and scouring the countryside for a plot of land to call home. The men of Youngstown Steel Valley Rugby have made their mark on the competition and have made a deal with their city that will allow them to have land dedicated to the team.
Logo for Steel Valley Rugby
(via Facebook)

“We entered a partnership with the City of Youngstown,” said William Burton, match secretary and social coordinator for he club. “The city maintains ownership of the park. Steel Valley Rugby takes over all lawn and grounds maintenance.”

In this deal Steel Valley Rugby is allowed to modify the property however they need to in order to fit their needs. The club covers the cost and manpower needs related the demolition and construction projects. In order to aid in the process of change, the city is willing to haul away demolition debris and provide fill dirt for any leveling fields, filling holes and covering the filled in pool area. Once everything has been razed and flattened, the club takes up the job of seeding the area.

“The city will pay utilities,” Burton said. “Steel Valley will maintain the buildings and grounds - plumbing roof repair, general maintenance and cleaning. The city just cut the cost of maintaining a nine-acre park and we gain total control of the property, a very fair deal.”

With rugby, as in most other areas of life, location is key. In the new deal with the city, the club received access to Borts Field, a park on the city’s West side that used to play host to little league baseball games and has a pool on the grounds, not to mention a basketball court and tennis court. The pool has been filled in so there likely won’t be any Steel Valley pool parties any time soon. For the club, the pool house is the most attractive aspect of the property. According to Burton, it is a historic structure that is still sturdy and strong. The plan is to remodel it and create a space the entire community and neighborhood to use. The rest will be for club use. The team space will have home and away locker rooms, a film room, lounge and an area for concessions.

“For over 90 years the park was a vital part of the local neighborhood,” Burton said. “We wish to make it central again by repurposing the park for rugby. We plan on, not only playing our league matches there, but we would also like to start summer youth rugby for six-to-12-year-olds and start middle school and high school programs as well.”

Burton plans to have the primary field ready for league matches by the coming Fall season, setting up the second field during the summer to have it ready for the next set of league play. Down the line, the club plans to hold quality USA Rugby events and have a surface teams look forward to playing on. All in all, Burton wants the new location to be a place for the local rugby community as well as the neighborhood outside of the sport to convene and be proud of.

The City of Youngstown didn’t just approach the club and offer them a plot of land. It took years of work and relationship building to make this deal happen, not to mention displacing a would-be dog park in the process.

“In 2012 we began to work with the Youngstown City Parks and developed a fantastic relationship with them,” Burton said. “When I read that a group wanted to convert the abandoned Borts Property into a dog-walking park I felt it was a waste, and the location was perfect for our needs. I reached out to Bob Burke, the Parks Director, and Mike Ray, the Fourth Ward Councilman. Both were very receptive to the idea.”

Borts Field in Youngstown, Ohio,
the new home of Steel Valley Rugby
Burton and the club decided to go after the property after that. Club member Matt "Ancon" Ranger Researched the property heavily, inspected the structures on the property and plotted the pitches could be placed in order to best utilize the area. The results were presented to the Parks Department and helped the club get the go-ahead to use the field.

“After approaching the city with the idea, which originally was just to put one pitch in and use it for league matches, Park Director Bob Burke asked me what we would do if we were given the whole property. The full transition of the property to Steel Valley Rugby came from Bob Burke wanting it to be used in a capacity that benefited the health and activity of the neighborhood, especially children and he saw Rugby as a way to accomplish that.  Councilman Mike Ray had a place in his heart for the architecture of the out buildings and wanted the property to be enjoyed by the community as it had for almost a century.  After a meeting between Councilman Ray, Director Burke and our Club Officers we were told to submit a proposal in writing. We did. A week after it was submitted we were awarded sole use of the property.”

According to Burke, when Burton and the club came to him with the idea for the rugby complex he was excited. The vision displayed by the group caught his eye and won him over. The potential positive impact on the community caught Burke's eye as well.

"We noticed when they played in another neighborhood that people enjoyed coming out and watching," he said. "It will build a fan base along with interest in the sport for all ages."

This change of venue was out of necessity for the club. According to Burton, the city and its parks had been of use. While the team has called a number of locations home throughout the city, the club wanted a location that was solely used for rugby and was more accessible.

“We have used several city parks for games,” Burton said. “Most recently, we have been based at Bailey Park, on the city's East side. While it’s big enough for our needs, it is used by a flag football league, a little league football team and often gets booked for large events, as well as it being off the beaten path. We wanted to find somewhere to play where we were not in competition and where people would see us and maybe get interested in playing themselves. We felt for recruitment purposes and to increase exposure we needed to find a neighborhood location.”

Not only did the club get a great deal with the city of Youngstown but did it in no time flat. After ten years away from the rugby scene, the club returned in 2010 as a city-based competitive men’s team. Steel Valley Rugby currently competes in the Division IV of Midwest competition. Last year, they came in second place to the Canton Maddogs.

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