One of my favorite aspects of being a local sports reporter is taking a global sporting event and seeing how it’s making an impact in a small town or city. The Rugby World Cup might be the third-largest sporting event behind the Olympics and FIFA World Cup but the sport has only a niche following in rural Virginia.
Last week, I took a look at how the sport is taking steps, albeit small ones, to gain attention in an area dominated by football and baseball. A club called “Rocktown Rugby” is slowly getting noticed in Harrisonburg, four years after it was founded by an Englishman, Richard Smith.
While James Madison University has a rugby club team, Smith looked to offer Valley residents a chance to participate in the sport. Rocktown Rugby plays against other teams from Virginia in the Capital Rugby Union. The team is a very tight knit group made up of individuals from different backgrounds.
Smith added: “We’ve got people from every walk of life, we’ve got Australians, we’ve got Scottish people, English. We’ve got farmers and builders and bankers and lawyers. There is everybody on this team.”
The club practices at a local middle school twice a week and then plays its games at a field outside another middle school. It’s fitting how schools play a role in the growth of the organization because Smith told me that Rocktown Rugby is working towards setting up youth programs as well as initiatives to get women involved in the game.
Hopefully, a noticeable performance by Team USA in this year’s World Cup will also help stir interest. And there’s talk about setting up a professional league in the United States, but that initiative is still looking for funding. Rugby has a future in the United States, including small towns and cities like Harrisonburg. Patience might be needed though to see that growth play out.