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Who are the Atlanta Aliens?

irish rugby tours

Who are the Atlanta Aliens?

Atlanta Aliens won their bracket at the Carolina Ruggerfest.

The buzz at Carolina Ruggerfest was definitely about the new high school boys team from Atlanta with the distinctive green and purple alien themed kit.

Before we get into what’s going on with Atlanta Youth Rugby and its newest team from the club's new president – we had to ask what the inspiration for the new team look was.

“When I moved from Charlotte less than two years ago to Atlanta – I made a list of all the things about Atlanta I liked – top of the list – my favorite band, OutKast is from there – one of their albums is called ATLiens – that whole thing has a vibe and represents the city – also - an alien head kind of looks like a rugby ball – so we changed it up a bit to ATL Aliens – makes total sense,” said new AYR Club President and Aliens Coach Erik Saxon.

The coach who for many years led the Charlotte Tigers and Charlotte Junior Rugby Association was asked to take over for the outgoing coach at Alpharetta Phoenix and not long after that asked to take over as president of AYR for the outgoing president there as well.

“I was planning on just quietly riding off into the sunset after the Tigers & CJRA & the move, maybe starting a small team down in Peachtree City where I live – but that wasn’t in the stars apparently,” he joked.

Phoenix has since come under AYR giving the organization four distinct geographic locations; Alpharetta, Buckhead, Inman Park, and Red Top. Given the traffic and actual distance, that covers a fairly large footprint. Like many clubs all over the world, COVID had a pretty big impact on numbers and all the AYR clubs are still bouncing back from that. Buckhead is the largest of the geographic locations. Their high school side War Eagle is pretty strong and has a full high school boys varsity and JV side as well as U8s, U10s, U12s, and U14s, called the Buckhead Bulls.

Under local president Christian Cram, this is a gold-standard program.

"He and his coaches and families and players have worked hard to grow and to excel on and off the pitch," said Saxon. "They’ve had some real quality wins this season and gave Okapi all they could handle as a touring side a couple of weeks ago. Our main job now is to get ALL of our locations up to that standard and beyond."

This is where ATL Aliens comes in. Alpharetta already has a team name – Phoenix; Inman Park is the Knights; Red Top is the Lions. In a perfect world, AYR would not need any Aliens at all, cool kit notwithstanding. The issue is numbers. Alpharetta has around 12 high school players. Inman Park has five, Red Top three, and a new side partnered with AYR in Augusta also has three. So, the Aliens are a true Motley making it possible for all these boys from all these locations to be able to practice together and play matches together. It has been tough – some players commute as long as two hours each way to practice – but it has also been great.

"These boys love rugby and love each other," said Saxon. "They totally get that without the guys from over here or over there making the effort to get to our once-a-week joint practices – there isn’t going to be any rugby. They appreciate each other’s sacrifice and willingness to make it work. What we’ve noticed as coaches is our practices are awesome. Everyone is locked in. Everyone is happy to be there. Everyone is hungry to learn and to get better. Within our 23 we have only five seniors, and one of them is new this year, we have a few juniors but the majority of players are underclassmen, and of those, half are playing rugby for the first time this year. It is exciting to coach these kids and the other coaches– Paul Raio and Dan Ledbetter from Inman Park, Bernie Magon from Alpharetta – are wonderful."

So, once all the AYR geographic locations grow their numbers will the ATL Aliens brand fade away? Not likely. The talk is to keep it as a combined traveling side name and kit for when AYR collectively goes to tournaments or travels with its different geographic locations combined – short of an all-star side – more of a total club touring name with A & B sides and age/ grade sides made up of players that are able to travel any given tournament weekend. But it is being used now to launch more widespread HS club rugby throughout the state.

It will likely take a couple of years before each of the AYR locations is up to speed. Buckhead and Alpharetta have numbers at the high school boys levels, but youth and girls not so much. Inman Park does have under high school teams but needs growth at the high school level, and Red Top is the newest of the locations and has an amazing middle school side but needs work growing on either end of that age group.

Each geographic location now has its own president and is forming its own booster club and parents’ committee versus having everything run by AYR centrally – the idea being to look & operate more like a traditional one location club – just with shared central support and using the economy of scale and pooled resources that a group of teams in the same area can and should take advantage of.

Saxon put it this way, “The Atlanta Metro is five times the size of the Charlotte Metro and yet we have about a tenth of their youth rugby numbers. There is room here to grow. There are kids here who have yet to discover and to fall in love with rugby. There are adults here ready and willing to do the work. I like our trajectory and we are the ones to watch.”

At Carolina Ruggerfest this past weekend the Aliens won their division with a tie with Hudson out of Ohio as well as wins over Lucy Beckham and Cape Fear B. It wasn't the toughest division, but it was a good showing, and a good start. ... Or should we say ... launch.