There seems to be something amiss in RugbyTown USA, AKA Glendale, Colorado. Glendale was pretty unknown to the rugby world until late 2006, “when city leaders developed a bold plan: The future of the city would be built around the sport of rugby” (About Us, Glendale Rugby). Part of the agreement of the city was the construction of Infinity Park and the creation of several rugby teams.
The Colorado Olde Girls were pivotal in the creation of Infinity Park and the Glendale Rugby Football Club. They believed in the bold plan and even knocked on doors in a blizzard, passed out flyers, and talked to residents to get the votes they needed for Infinity Park. These women in the early 2000s laid the groundwork to have the first rugby stadium built in the United States.
The Olde Girls amalgamated with the Glendale Rugby Football Club to form the Glendale Women’s team in the fall of 2006. They played in the USA Rugby’s Division I for a few years and then moved into the Women’s Premier League in 2012. They placed 3rd in 2013, won back-to-back national championships in 2014 and 2015, and placed 2nd in 2016, 2017, and 2018. In 2019 they returned to their winning form taking the WPL Championship over Life West.
On the men’s side, the Colorado Raptors participated in the MLR League and the Glendale Merlins in Men’s Division I. The men’s DI squad won the 2011 Division I Championship, and were 2014 Runners-up in the inaugural season of the Pacific Rugby Premiership. They then were Pacific Rugby Premiership Champions in 2015 and 2016.
Glendale also operates a High Performance Academy for ages 16, 17, 18 along with a complete youth program for U14, U12, U10, U8, and U6.
The first hint to a big problem in Glendale was the announcement that their recently rebranded MLR team was dropping out of the MLR. It was initially blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic and that their “greater responsibility lies in the development of American players who can go on to win the World Cup for the United States” (April 9, 2020).
Then last week, the Women’s Premier League and Women’s DI players were notified by their coaches in a team meeting that “beginning 2021, the City of Glendale will no longer be supporting the women’s programs (both WPL and D1).” YSC has confirmed from several sources that the coaches were not given prior knowledge, everyone was blindsided at every level.
We’re already aware of Glendale’s historical issues with their women’s team (more on that later) but this was definitely an escalation. It appears that the City of Glendale and recently declared bankrupt USA Rugby have been in discussions. This is not abnormal as these two entities, both located in Colorado have always had a close relationship. For a time Infinity Park was designated as the home venue for the USA Eagles.
It’s clear that USA Rugby is trying to survive and thrive post bankruptcy and making a deal with Glendale may pave a sort of path for that. It appears they’re discussing free or reduced pricing for office space at Infinity Park, exclusive hosting arrangements for USA Eagles matches and providing a home base of sorts for the USA Rugby Women’s National Team XVs members and pool players. This brings us back to the original question, why did Glendale sever their relationship with the women’s teams?
Surely there is room for everyone, the men’s Glendale Merlins, Academy and youth programs haven’t been told they are seeing reductions or being cut. Why are the women being singled out? It’s no secret that Glendale has had a fraught relationship with their women’s programs including a staggering number of coaching staff turnovers (regardless of record), a Women’s DI program tied to the whim/budget of Glendale, pay disparities and stadium access. Despite all of this, they clearly created a partnership that has fostered success over the years.
If Glendale wants to truly be the future of rugby, which all signs point to, then they shouldn’t start with removing the most successful team in their organizations existence. Despite all the success of the women’s Glendale Merlins, little thanks to the support of Glendale, they weren’t on equal footing. But as all die-hard women’s rugby supporters have said for years…
“If you don’t support women’s rugby and don’t spend marketing dollars on it, yes, you can in fact keep claiming that it won’t succeed.” Wendy Young, YSC Rugby Editor