Rugby in Alaska? In the frozen tundra? How did that happen?
In 1973 Anchorage, Alaska, the largest city in the state with a population 80,000, had no idea what Rugby was all about. The USA in general was just catching on, thanks largely to college club sides offering an alternative to American football. However, Alaska was about to see the light, thanks to the power of mass media and a television ad salesman whose only experience with rugby was having enjoyed, the company of a rugby club in Nevada. He put up a ten second tag on a tape delayed broadcast of a British Rugby League match one slow Sunday afternoon (“want to play Rugby? Call this number”), which resulted in so many phone calls he panicked. Several of us who called had hoped maybe someday a sevens game or two could be in our future, but forty-five guys turned out for the first get-together.
An instrumental contributor to our launch of Rugby was Paul Schmidt, a local high school teacher who showed up with an entire side of eighteen to twenty year old’s he had taught some Rugby as school boys. He was determined to keep the kids together, which didn’t seem, at first, like a good idea since generally speaking, the rest of us were former college club players, but with the addition of a couple of good seniors things worked out. Paul also promoted the first club sponsorship, from a local tavern, complete with new jerseys, so his club players (too young to drink legally) were sponsored by a bar, while the old, out of shape, club players wore sweatshirts from a local health club. That summer Paul even talked a Canadian team from Langley, B.C. into coming all the way to Alaska for an end-of- the-season tournament. Thanks to Paul, Bill “Mother” Tucker, and the original Bird Creek Barbarians Team from 1973, we were off and running!
Over the years, we have elevated to having teams across Alaska, including the addition of Youth Programs in both Anchorage and the Mat-su Valley. Anchorage hosts a lively rugby scene each summer with 3 tournaments, a Men’s competitive Matrix (consisting of 5 local teams), and 2 Women’s sides that scrimmage each other regularly to grow the game. The Fairbanks and Kenai based teams also host a summer 10s tournament each year for clubs around the state to travel and play in. Even though it gets a bit cold and dark in the winter, Alaskan ruggers don’t stop! During the winter, you can find rugby teams renting space and practicing indoors in a variety of indoor sporting venues around the state. There is also a pickup touch league that meets on Saturday evenings from ten to midnight! The pickup league attracts players from teams across the union, from youth to old boys and everyone in between!
Alaska Rugby has three pitches right in Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. There are also pitches located North in Fairbanks and South on the Kenai Peninsula, and rumors flying around about some new teams in other Alaskan towns. Alaska’s pride and joy is The Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds. Referred to by many as “The Field of Dreams”, AMRG opened in 2013, thanks to big dreamer and Alaskan Rugger, Justin Green, with the help of his teammates and his demolition company, Alaska Demolition. AMRG is an international regulation rugby pitch with a world class rugby clubhouse and stunning views in all directions. All of the fields across the state are maintained by AKRU members with a passion for promoting and growing rugby in the state. Fair warning, Alaska is one of the only places where a game might be delayed due to a visiting bear or moose on the pitch!
Fast forward to 2023, our 50th Anniversary of the Alaska Rugby Union forming long ago. This upcoming summer is sure to be an epic celebration of the growth of rugby in our great state. If you are a current or past member of the union and have photos, stories, or other memories to contribute, please email them to email@example.com so they can be incorporated into the celebrations!