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Rugby Indiana Scores With Polo Fundraiser

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Rugby Indiana Scores With Polo Fundraiser

The Rugby Indiana Day at Hickory Hall Polo Club.

Rugby Indiana held an outreach and fundraising event this past weekend at the Hickory Hall Polo Club in Indianapolis.

That, perhaps is what made this event relatively unique—unless they are sharing playing space, you don't think of rugby and polo mixing. But Executive Director Wayne Eells wanted to shake things up.

"In order to grow rugby we must venture outside of our rugby family and comfort zone," said Eells. "That means we need to gain new exposures, and with that comes opportunities to share the many benefits of youth and high school rugby to those new people. As we share our passion for the game and how it really impacts the lives of these children, it also allows us to ask new people to support what we are doing and growing the game."

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The whole idea for Rugby Indiana to connect with polo came from Rugby Indiana Boardmember Melissa Alexander.

Polo is a popular sport among high-income people, and that's also an attraction. Finding well-heeled supporters of rugby can be difficult, so a polo match was a good way to find them. In addition, with Polo being a sport practiced outdoors in large spaces, the event was still going on during the COVID-19 outbreak.

So that's how Polo on the Prairie came to be associated with Rugby Indiana. 

"We were welcomed like we were family," said Eells. "People were excited for the polo match, they are excited for all the activities we were doing to raise funds, and lots of questions were asked about rugby. For the rugby community and the polo community it was fun to watch them both learn about the similarities of not just the game, but how both sports are bigger than the game itself, and it is a larger community/family. It was fun to watch the polo after match social they had, and being invited to spend time with the players of both teams."

The Chandler family, which runs the Hickory Hall Polo Club, were very good to work with and what looks like a business and community connection that will last for years. That connection would not have happened were it not for Rugby Indiana Boardmember Melissa Alexander.

"It was her connections, idea, and leadership that made this successful," said Eells. "All of rugby needs more board members like her."

Working with the Chandlers led to introductions to other prominent community members and organizations.

"We have been able to connect with them, learn how they host their events, share resources, and more," said Eells. "In this current COVID Pandemic, the Chandlers are not only leaders in the area, they are helping area nonprofits raise funds during a difficult time."

The Kick For Kash

Rugby Indiana also hosted a Kick for Kash event. How it worked was that fans entered into a drawing to take a place kick from 45 yards out (one attempt, no warmup). If the person made it, he or she would get $25,000. They secured a sponsor for the contest, Dairy Queen. But this sort of sponsorship isn't expensive for the sponsor. The sponsor normally only pays for the insurance, which typically is only a few hundred dollars. If the contest is won, then it's the insurance that pays out, not the sponsor.

Anyone who played rugby or football in college, semi-pro, or the pros, was not eligible to compete, but high schoolers were.

"How great for a high school player to have kicked it and won," said Eells? "Think of that college money they would have scored. The drawn winner was very excited, came out with his wife and children. He asked his wife to hold the ball and he gave it his best shot."

He didn't make the kick, but it was fun.

Interestingly, there was someone in the crowd who could easily have made the kick, and proved it. Legendary NFL placekicker Adam Vinatieri, who won two Super Bowls on last-second kicks, was there with his son. After the Kick for Kash, the two Vinatieris went onto the field and gave the kick a shot. AJ Vinatieri, who plays football for Zionsville HS, missed his first attempt and put it over on his second. The elder Vinatieri attempted a drop kick from 45 out, and then smacked over a couple of place kicks with no problem.

"He was a good sport," said Eells. "Afterwards he and his son took pictures with fans, one of our board members talked to his son about the game of rugby, and we presented them with a rugby ball. We really appreciate Adam Vinatieri and his son AJ being such great sports and helping make our event even more special."

See photos and video of Adam Vinatieri at the Rugby Indiana Polo event.

So there is still something a rugby organization can do to raise awareness and, maybe, some funds.

"It was great to see our rugby family out for the first time this year since the pandemic changed everything," said Eells. "What was really special is that it was relaxed because it was not at a rugby match. Yes, we all miss rugby – but it is nice to just socialize with our rugby family. No one is worried about the offsides call, no one is calling out high tackle, no one is just in their tech zones. It was just people socializing with food and beverages, all for a good cause. It was like a giant after-match social. Rugby needs a bit more of these types of events; it recharges us, helps us remember that rugby is much bigger than just the game on the pitch, it keeps things fun, and it keeps us connected."