The Arkansas Gryphons are trying to drum up interest and support in Northwest Arkansas for its rugby club, which started in 2007 when some former University of Arkansas rugby players who had stayed in Fayetteville wanted to have a team to belong to in the area.
“Similar to lacrosse up here, there are a few leagues, but for the most part, it’s a non-professional sport in the United States,” said Jason Ayers, head coach of the Gryphons. “It’s different worldwide, where a lot of the players just eat, sleep and drink rugby and get paid to play. However, there are college scholarship opportunities, which Arkansas State University in Jonesboro offers for rugby.”
Ayers said that there are a number of things the Gryphons are trying to do in the short-term to improve the club.
“We’re looking to secure a home-field pitch, because a lot of times we get shoved around for recreational youth baseball, soccer and softball,” Ayers said. “We’re constantly having to move our fields, so we need to find a permanent home for us.”
Youth rugby in Northwest Arkansas is something that Ayers mentioned as another short-term goal that would help benefit the Gryphons.
“There are a lot of clubs around us, like in Tulsa, Kansas City, Little Rock and Memphis that offer youth rugby,” Ayers said. “They become feeder clubs for colleges and other clubs. Rugby is going to be in the 2016 Olympic Games and it’s beginning to be featured more on the NBC Sports Network.”
The Gryphons have a couple of local sponsors, such as Core Brewery and US Lawns, to offset some of their costs, which are all absorbed by the players.
“We try to do a lot of work in the community; we’ve worked with the battered women’s shelter in Springdale and we’ve read to children in the area,” Ayers said. “It has led to further recruiting, and we have an open-door policy with our club. Anyone is welcome to attend our Tuesday and Thursday practices.”
One long-term goal that Ayers identified was the construction of a rugby pitch with an attached clubhouse, complete with showers and locker rooms.
“We want to have good rugby on and off the pitch,” Ayers said. “We want to have a home base where we could host other teams and have a trophy case to display our success. And we are always looking for new athletes to come out and learn and play the game with us. No experience is necessary.”
There are three seasons for the Gryphons — fall, spring and summer. They compete in the Heart of America Rugby Football Union, Division III.
In the fall, they play in the Midwest region against teams from Kansas City, Springfield, Mo. and Wichita, Kan.
“It starts back up from February to April and then we travel to tournaments in the summer,” Ayers said.
The Gryphons have began to use social media to enlist interested players and develop a rapport within the community.
“We have a Facebook page and a webpage that we are constantly updating, as well as Twitter and Instagram,” Ayers said. “The greatest ambassadors are the players themselves, and them coming out and enjoying it. We want to take it to the schools and pass out flyers. It can be non-contact for beginners and youth until we can teach them rugby and teach them the proper tackling techniques.”
The Gryphons can be found at arkansasrugby.com, and on Twitter @arkrugby.
Throwing the disc
Approximately 250 players from the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area meet twice a week at different locations in Fayetteville to play ultimate Frisbee, a sport that has gained steam with high school and college students.
“Player level ranges are from a new beginner to a USA Ultimate Nationals attendee,” said Will Dockery, spokesman for the Fayetteville Disc League.
On Tuesdays, the league plays competitive matches at Lewis soccer fields in Fayetteville at 6:30 and on Thursdays, pickup games are held at Walker Park in south Fayetteville from 6:30 until nightfall. They are also held from 2-4 p.m. on Sundays.
“It’s a lot of fun and helps keep you in shape,” Dockery said. “A typical game has you going from sprinting to jogging and covering several miles all while you are constantly challenged to throw and catch.”
Dockery said anyone is welcome to come and participate, and that all they need to do is bring cleats and a white and dark shirt.
“We will gladly teach you the rest,” he said.
More information is available at fayettevilledisc.org, and they can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. ■