Wrapping up a plan roughly two years in the works, Springfield Rugby Football Club executed a land swap this summer with a local nonprofit, leading to what officials believe is the largest and finest facility in the club’s near 40-year existence.
Springfield Rugby, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, held a grand opening Aug. 20 for its new 14-acre rugby facility at 4035 E. Sawyer Road in Brookline, just a minute’s drive from Amazon’s fulfillment center. It was a short move from the 1983-founded organization’s former home east of Springfield on Farm Road 144 – less than a mile, said Daniel Moore, who began coaching the men’s rugby team last year after around a decade as a player on the squad.
According to Springfield Rugby’s website, the organization bought 10 acres on Farm Road 144 in 1999 for $26,000 near Brookline Business Park. After developing the property for rugby, it began practicing and playing matches there in 2001. Then, Convoy of Hope came calling in 2020, Moore said.
The international humanitarian relief organization opened its 250,000-square-foot distribution center last year in Republic and is now constructing a $37 million, 200,000-square-foot global headquarters and training center, set to open in August 2023.
“We didn’t have any plans. We were happy where we were,” Moore said of moving to a new facility prior to being approached by Convoy of Hope. “They just so happened to buy the big plot of land next to us and decided they needed ours, too. Eventually, they made it to where we couldn’t refuse.”
Convoy of Hope purchased the Sawyer Road land and was willing to prepare the property specifically for the rugby club, Moore said. The new facility includes two landscaped pitches for games and practice, a new pavilion, parking area and floodlights.
“They pretty much told us we’ll build you a bigger pavilion, two pitches with playable surfaces, city power run and they would install a well,” he said, adding Convoy of Hope made good on all its promises. “We’re extremely happy about it.”
Officials with both organizations said the deal involved no exchange of money, only a transfer of land titles.
“Convoy of Hope is thrilled that the deal was mutually beneficial, and we enjoyed working with Springfield Rugby Club,” Convoy of Hope spokesperson Ethan Forhetz said via email, declining to disclose the organization’s investment in the Sawyer Road property upgrades.
Martin said the former facility also was used by the women’s team, which was founded in 2015 and competes as Queen City Chaos. It didn’t have electricity or running water, making the clubs’ new home a significant upgrade, he said.
“It’s exceeding expectations. I was a bit skeptical that they were going to be able to get the grass to grow on time, especially this summer with how exhaustively hot it was,” he said. “But it’s grown in, and the grass is good, and the pavilion is great.”
Practices started in early August leading up to the start of the men’s fall season on Sept. 10. Martin said the fall slate typically runs in September and October followed by a spring season from March through late April or early May.
All Springfield Rugby matches are played on Saturdays, home and away, and are free to attend, Martin said.
“I’ve never been to a rugby match that’s charged admission. It’s very rare you’ll come to a rugby match at our level and be forced to pay to watch,” he said. “The club makes money primarily through dues and that’s through the player.”
The men’s team typically comprises 23 players and they pay $80 in dues per season. Rookies are excluded from payments for their first year, Martin said.
The organization’s annual budget is small, roughly $6,000-$8,000, he said, adding fundraising and merchandise sales, which includes shirts, hats and stickers, pull in around $3,000-$4,000 per year.
Sponsorship levels for the team range $500-$5,000, Martin said, adding Wire Road Brewing Co. in Battlefield and Washboard Cafe in Willard are among this season’s sponsors.
Jeff Birchler, co-owner of Wire Road, said the rugby team marks the first sports sponsorship for the brewery, which launched in January.
“We’re always looking for different ways to get our name out there in the public,” he said. “A new business like this – it’s a good thing – but we receive numerous requests, and we are constantly reviewing those.”
The brewery’s name adorns the front of the men’s jerseys and Birchler said the company supplies beer samples for the organization to promote at its home matches.
“It’s a way for us to provide samples of our beer and introduce people to our product and our name,” he said.
According to Birchler, Wire Road’s initial investment is “a few thousand dollars but we’re fluid on that and adjusting as the season goes on.”
Birchler said he and another co-owner, Kary Walker, are both former teachers who also coached a variety of sports at Springfield Public Schools.
“This was a way for us to get back into that,” he said. “Not quite as coaches but our way to support a program that we see some value and merit. It seems like it’s on the edge of taking off.”
The new facility also is home to matches for the Drury University men’s and women’s rugby teams, both in their inaugural season for the 2022-23 academic year.
Officials with Drury and Springfield Rugby declined to disclose terms of their deal, although Martin said the organization is expecting to increase its per day rental rates at the new facility to $500 from $200-$300 charged at its former home.
Bryan Bevel, who first became involved with Springfield Rugby in 1994, is the men’s rugby coach at Drury. He said the men’s team has 12 scholarship athletes on campus and two non-scholarship walk-ons. It’s part of a three-year buildout for the program at the college with expectations to have 40 scholarships for men and 25 for women by 2025.
“Rugby is not as violent as American football, but you do get injuries and have people who can’t play for certain reasons, such as classes, labs and things like that,” he said about the need to expand the team sizes. “First and foremost, they’re here to get an education, so we want to promote that as much as possible.”
Bevel, who also is owner of The Pitch Pizza & Pub, said Drury officials initially consulted with him about interest in starting a rugby team at the university. That led to him applying for and ultimately receiving the coaching position.
“Rugby is one of the most affordable and approachable sports you could field a side on,” he said. “Basically, we need some rugby balls and a few pads, and you can start a side. That’s what we did.”
Rugby is one of several new non-NCAA sports for this school year at Drury. Others include men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s ice hockey, men’s triathlon and stunt cheerleading.
Dynamic Strides Therapy to address growing demand with future expansion.