The Show And Go: Glendale Launches Crossover Academy
The Show And Go: Glendale Launches Crossover Academy
The City of Glendale is moving ahead with its plan to run an academy for crossover athletes who want to learn rugby and become professional and international rugby players, and they're filming it.
The RugbyTown Crossover Academy has taken a group of players who grew up with football, basketball, and wrestling and with a dedicated group of coaches will try to teach them rugby, and make them into a viable, effective semi-professional team. During the entire process, Glendale has commissioned Pat Guthrie and his crew to film it all and create a recurring show around what the athletes and the coaches are experiencing.
"It took my mom to tell me that I loved rugby more (than football). I didn't see that but she saw it in me."— RugbyTown National Training Center (@RugbyTownNTC) January 30, 2021
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The first episode introducing it all is now available to view and it's a compelling look at a group of young athletes who have decided to shake up their lives and learn a sport they don't know. Why? "I want to be an Olympian," says one player. "I get to tackle, I get to run, I get to score ... I get to just be me," says another.
What the pilot show exposes is the personalities of the players and the coaches. With a coaching staff of Mark Bullock, Peter Borlase, Sarah Chobot, Luke Gross, Mose Timoteo, and Peter Pasque, the academy has coaches with an understanding of rugby, but also of converting from other sports. As Bullock points out in the pilot, he has coached both football and rugby and had success at both. It matters.
The success of the pilot is that it's about the players learning the sport and working to master difficult concepts. It doesn't get bogged down in inter-personal drama. Instead it finds drama in players trying to succeed.
In 2020 Glendale, Colo. Mayor Mike Dunafon announced that Glendale would be pulling out of Major League Rugby. Dunafon and Guthrie had been active in helping start the MLR, but the league's shift toward more foreign players wasn't what the Glendale group wanted. The plan in Glendale had always been about promoting American rugby, said Dunafon. That's why Glendale worked a deal with USA Rugby.
"When I was playing rugby in the Caribbean 40 years ago and I was the only Yank on the team I was told that we would never play rugby at a high level because we didn't understand the game," Dunafon told Goff Rugby Report. "But I knew they were wrong. The American spirit in sport is as good as it gets."
Since the plan to make Glendale RugbyTown started about 21 years go, "that has been the focus," he continued. Dunafon saw the MLR foreign player limits go up and up, and that's not what the Glendale vision was.
"When we pulled out of MLR we said watch for something big; we're not going to tolerate American being second fiddle to anyone in any sport. We're not bagging on anyone who has played for the Eagles, but we need to take our seat at the table."
“Coincidences mean you're on the right path.”— RugbyTown National Training Center (@RugbyTownNTC) January 25, 2021
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Now is the right time to produce a crossover academy because it's getting harder and harder for overseas players to come to the USA. So a group of athletes were vetted and brought in, and now they have to maintain their level of improvement to eventually form a team that succeeds at a professional level. Dunafon said that character as well as athleticism was a key component in choosing the players.
"We’re recruiting highly articulate, motivated, intelligent athletes," Dunafon said. '"The mix that creates success is a dedication to the purpose, to the idea, of the team, combined with athleticism. If you get a bad apple, they can run a 4-flat 40 but they’re no use to you. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, thrilled actually, with the caliber of person we've recruited."
Dunafon related the story of the city manager needing to have a meeting with the players. The meeting was scheduled for 2pm, and the city manager went down to the meeting room at 1:30 to unlock the door, but the players had already shown up and persuaded someone else to open the door to the meeting room.
"The players were there ready to go, and what they said to our city manager was: 'Ma'am, we're professionals.'"
Athletically these players are generally bigger than many of the top-level rugby players we see, but are also quicker and more agile than players the same size. And there are more coming. Word, said Dunafon, is getting around. More athletes want to participate, so if someone in the Academy is not progressing, they will be replaced.
Glendale is shopping the pilot, and will be filming additional episodes, and certainly the concept of developing World Cup and Olympic rugby players out of whole cloth is a compelling one. But for rugby fans, the compelling thing is also that finally this idea is being tried—not with one player or two, but with a whole group. And we get to watch.