Many of you may know Ted Hardy as Editor and writer for Americas Rugby News but did you know he’s the founder of the Clayton Bootleggers? Maybe this is a side of Ted some of you didn’t know about.
Ted was kind enough to take time away from developing rugby in the Carolina area to answer a few questions for Rugby Nation USA about community, development, and building a program.
Rugby Nation USA (RN): I know you started covering rugby in 2008 but how long have you been involved with rugby?
Ted Hardy (TH): I started dabbling in rugby in the early 2000s. At that time, I was still heavily involved in baseball and was having a hard time letting go of the sport I grew up with for something completely different. I had brushes with rugby throughout college and it had been on my radar for years to give a go. After a few years of thinking about it, I finally committed full time around 2005 and haven’t looked back.
RN: When and where did you first get involved with rugby? Coaching and playing?
TH: My home club is the Akron Rugby Football Club in Ohio. I started as a player and after a few years started coaching youth clinics around the area to spread awareness. I continued to do both for Akron until we moved to North Carolina in 2012.
RN: You founded the Bootleggers in 2013, why?
TH: There were a couple reasons that we started the club. The initial reason is that we saw the growth we had experienced at the youth level. At some point these kids were going to need a club to play for after High School and College. We figured if we got things rolling and focused on creating a good club foundation that we’d be ready when our first generation of youth players moved on to the club ranks. Little did we know that the approach we took would lead to a rapid growth at the men’s level. So, we had to change some of our timetables. At the same time, we saw an opportunity to create something unique and special. I had been around long enough to see a lot of good things and a lot of bad things from club rugby. We took good elements of club rugby and intertwined them with a family friendly, community centered focus on delivering rugby. Behind that we assembled a strong, passionate, and progressive Board of Directors and put in place a development plan to map out the future of our club.
RN: Any advice for upstart clubs?
TH: Patience is the key. It takes time to get things rolling. Outside of a few rare cases, growth and/or success is not overnight. It is tempting to take shortcuts, but don’t fall into the trap. Too many clubs get caught up in wins and losses and end up skipping over important steps in building a sustainable club structure. Which then leads to the cycle of surviving from one year to the next. Running a rugby club is no different than running a business. Expect to take hits in the first three years as you build your foundation. The goal is sustainability. Sit down, take the time and write a 5-year development plan and/or business plan for your club. Be realistic with your goals and hold yourself accountable for following it. Get involved in your community… volunteer and donate time to causes that don’t directly impact your bottom line. There is no better way to advertise your club, open doors, and network within your community. Last, but not least… get involved in youth rugby whether it is starting a program or getting your players to coach with an existing program.
RN: I believe North Carolina is the next big hotbed of rugby; what’s the rugby scene like in the Raleigh area?
TH: I’m biased, but I think you’re right. There are a lot of great things going on around North Carolina. Youth rugby is exploding in pockets of the state (Charlotte and the Triangle in particular), so it is important that we build on that and start filling in the gaps between. On top of that, our location is perfectly placed along the eastern USA coast and our weather allows for almost year-round play in most parts of the state. Clayton is just outside of the Triangle Area of NC (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). In our area we have four men’s clubs, two women’s clubs (soon to be a third), three men’s and women’s collegiate programs, five youth rugby programs (soon to be six), and four High School teams (a fifth is in the works as well). All of which are within an hour of each other. There are a lot of reasons to be bullish on the future of rugby in our area and North Carolina. I think we’re only beginning to scratch the surface.
RN: Football is big in NC, big everywhere, how are youth being introduced to rugby in your area?
TH: In Clayton, well over half of the kids are being introduced through football. A handful of the Copperhead’s coaches also coach youth football and they’ve used the rugby makes better football players platform to bring a lot of kids to the sport. Which has resulted in some really good youth football teams in the area. One of the youth clubs in Raleigh works with the Boys & Girls Club and draws quite a few players from that program. Others have recruited out of soccer programs. There are a lot of ways to accomplish the same goal, which is more kids playing rugby. We’re in the process of working with 2-3 local Parks & Rec programs to launch rugby through their departments which we feel will be a big step for rugby in our area. Along those same lines, we’ve started to look outside of Clayton to set up free clinics as a way to raise awareness. Community events are also great venues for reaching kids. Clayton hosts a couple large events, as well as some smaller ones, and we make sure to have booth/promotional space at all of them.
RN: Where you involved at all in the National Championships at Cary?
TH: We weren’t involved at the National Championships due to conflicts. Our youth teams were out of state at a tournament and the men had a community event that weekend. The roll out for the National Championships wasn’t as well planned as the NACRA 7s Olympic Qualifiers which we were heavily involved in throughout the weekend.
RN: What is North Carolina doing that other States aren’t?
TH: I don’t feel like we’re doing anything different than what I’ve seen from other states. The biggest difference is that I think the timing and climate is right for rugby to explode here. The Triangle and Charlotte are very diverse areas with people relocating from all parts of the country and world for work. There is a surprising amount of rugby awareness in North Carolina. It’s just a matter of connecting the dots and pointing people in the right direction. The positive rugby values also aligns well with many traditional Southern family values… community, respect, sportsmanship, honor, integrity. All of these values seem to resonate with parents. More so than what I noticed when I was in Ohio.
RN: Tell me about your clubs Founder’s Initiative.
TH: A little background first. Early on in our club’s existence we determined that the future of our club depended on our ability to find a permanent home for rugby. The past few years we have spent looking in every fox hole and exploring different opportunities. Last Spring we started working on a public/private partnership between the Clayton RFC and a neighboring town with plenty of rural space. As part of the agreement, they are providing us land to build 3-4 rugby fields, clubhouse, and support structures. A rugby club’s dream. In return, we are making the fields available for the community when not in use for rugby. We are also serving as the recreation for the town and will be start a youth rugby program for them. We get a permanent home, increased hosting capabilities, and they get recreational space that they couldn’t have otherwise provided their citizens.
When figuring out our plans to finance the development, we broke the funds into four categories… internal, corporate sponsors, grants, and traditional fundraising. The internal component is where the Founder’s Initiative comes into play. It was important for us to be able to show sponsors and grant foundations that we could “put our money where our mouth is”. So, we came up with the Founder’s Initiative as a way for members, family, fans, whomever to make a permanent mark on Clayton Rugby. We have multiple Founder’s Levels (some with monthly payment options) with all of our Founders receiving permanent recognition on a memorial that will be placed at the fields and also inside of the clubhouse when it is completed. To date, we are over 2/3 of the way to our initial goal and hope to surpass it by the end of the year.
RN: You have a Youth program; what can you tell me about the Copperheads?
TH: Unlike most areas, where the adult club came before the youth, in Clayton the youth program was founded before the men and we spawned off of that. We are actually run as separate entities with different board structures and personnel. However, we share coaching resources and a number of our men’s players coach with the Copperheads at the both the youth and high school levels. We encourage all of our men’s players to turn out to Wednesday night youth practices at least once a month. It is important that we show them that we are here and support them. We work closely together and have teamed up to have the youth teams play curtain raiser matches and intermissions during men’s games. It’s not your traditional “one club” approach, but it works for us as we feel like we can have a bigger impact on growing rugby by starting and helping support multiple youth programs as opposed to just focusing on one.
RN: How involved are you and the Bootleggers in the local high school rugby clubs?
TH: We provide coaching support to the Clayton High School team. We have also run clinics for another local High School as they are attempting to build enough interest to field a team in the next year or so. As more high school teams come online throughout our county I foresee that we’ll play some sort of role (coaching, admin, sponsorship) in all of them.
RN: Tell me about the CottonTown 7’s; teams, origins?
TH: The CottonTown 7s is our annual Summer tournament event. The name comes from a bit of our town’s history. At one point in the early 1900s Clayton was one of the major hubs for cotton in the USA. There are still some of the old cotton mills left in town that are now being renovated into great new spaces. Our club’s primary sponsor, Deep River Brewing Company, also produces the CottonTown Lager as a nod to our history. So, it was a no-brainer for us to go in that direction in naming the event. This year will be the second year for the tournament. Just as when we set out to start our club, when we looked at hosting a 7s tournament we knew that we needed to do something different. There are a lot of great tournaments in the Carolinas each Summer, so we didn’t want to be just another day of 7s. So, we brought in food trucks, local vendors, and even had a pipe and drum band playing an intermission set. It turned out great and gave us a good starting point for growing the event. Last year we had 18 teams. We’ve added an extra field this year and have added a Women’s Division to the mix. We are expecting around 30 teams this year. We expect to have our new facility open in time for the 2018 CottonTown 7s and have some special plans for that event.
RN: As President of the club what’s you vision for the entire organization?
TH: To be the kind of club that people want to be a part of and are proud to share with others. Whether that is as a player, social member, fan, supporter, or corporate partner. Create a club culture that lasts well past my years. Our primary goal is to increase the participation in, appreciation, and enjoyment of the sport of rugby. We want to be a club that provides opportunities for all types of players, regardless of age or skill level. As long as we stick to that mission I believe that everything else will work out. When it is all said and done and I finish my time as President, I want to hand off a club that has defined administrative processes/structures in place and sustainable revenue sources that provide our next generation of leadership the ability to continue our mission successfully.
RN: Is club professionalism in North Carolina’s future?
TH: I think that professionalism is inevitable, but what form that takes is up in the air. There currently aren’t any clubs in North Carolina that are close to professionalizing in the sense that players, coaches, and admin are paid a good living wage for their services. That said, professionalism goes well beyond just paying people. It is a mindset and approach to how things are done. There are clubs in North Carolina that have been making huge strides in how they approach rugby. Every club can have a professional mindset. That doesn’t require any extra funds.
RN: How do you support that? Will it be the Bootleggers?
TH: It will all depend on what the final product looks like. To engage consumers, it is going to need to be a very good product. I will support professional rugby in North Carolina in any way possible as long as it is a product that I can get behind. Not just in quality of play, but in operations on and off the pitch, marketing, player welfare, and community engagement. What we saw from PRO Rugby last year was a step forward, but not professional on many fronts. Whether that can be the Bootleggers? I hate to put a cap or restriction on ambition, but I can safely say that we have a five year development plan in place and it is not even remotely on our radar. However, we are actively pursuing a professional approach and mindset in how we manage our club, develop sustainable revenue streams, and provide a quality product to our members and fans. We’ve been working with Nathan Bombrys from the Glasgow Warriors since early last Fall. There are some marketing and administrative structures that we are using right now that are scaled versions of what is being done in Glasgow. He’s been an amazing resource to have for our club and we have high hopes for the future of our relationship. Where things go in the future? We have control over the direction of the club, but it is important that our members are on the same page. We have a motto that has worked thus far… “Focus on rugby, do the right things for the right reasons and things will work out.” We’re going to keep focusing on that and see where the road leads us.
RN: If given the power what would you change about rugby in the US?
TH: I’d push rugby as a school sport at least at the High School level, but preferably starting in Middle School. That would produce a seismic shift in participation, perception, and validity for the sport in the USA. All of which would have a direct carryover effect on all segments of the game here in America.
RN: When I think of South African rugby I think power, when I think of New Zealand I think speed and skill, what is the rugby identity of the US?
TH: Passion. Without a doubt. The passion for rugby in the USA is unbelievable. The lengths that people go through to play, coach, and support rugby is inspiring to me. Making 2-3 hour trips (one way) to play matches, poor facilities, little attention, negative public perception, and a host of other issues that we face. I have friends in developed rugby nations that have told me that if they had to go through what we do in America that most people wouldn’t play. The American rugby community has breathtaking passion for our sport. Despite the many obstacles we face, people at the grassroots levels continue to grow the game at an amazing pace. It’s just a matter of aligning that passion in the same direction with a vision for the future. Then we’ll see some real magic.
RN: What’s one major rugby success you’d like to highlight?
TH: I’ve never been one to relish in achievements of accolades. The most satisfying moments or successes for me are when new people are introduced to rugby. Whether that is at age 6 or age 50. Years ago I wrote an article called “Everyone Deserves Rugby” and I try to live those words. It means a lot to me to give people the opportunity to play and enjoy this great sport.
RN: What’s something you’d like a do-over with?
TH: There was a point in the early 2000s where I was on the fence about starting to play rugby or getting involved as an administrator with a baseball league. I went with baseball. It was a nightmare and delayed my full time crossover to rugby by a couple of years. I did learn some hard lessons through the process that have served me well in my rugby administrative role. So, there is a silver lining I guess.
RN: Tell me about Coach Rich Munro.
TH: Interesting story. Rich and I both hail from the Akron Rugby Football Club, but came from different time periods in the club’s history. We originally met at Akron’s Annual Old Boys weekend shortly after I started playing, but he was living in North Carolina and only came home for the event, so I never got to know him. We didn’t finally connect until I moved to North Carolina. Rich is an Old School rugby hard man, but with a heart of gold. He was a stalwart for Akron in the 90s and played for the Midwest in 7s and 15s back in his prime. He is one of the most giving rugby men in our area. He has a tough work schedule, but makes it out to Men’s training on Tues/Thurs, coaches Middle School rugby on Mon/Wed, attends every Men’s match and then turns around and coaches Middle School on Sundays. He’s an absolute soldier and a credit to the sport.
RN: Who in your club deserves that extra special nod and why?
TH: There are too many to name. We have so many wonderful volunteers that help us deliver rugby to our members and the community. If I had to pick one though, I’d say Philip Davies. He’s been with our club from day one and not played a single minute of rugby. He is a true club rugby man. Selfless in everything that he does for our club. He does all of the dirty work behind the scenes and doesn’t care one bit about attention. He serves on our board, cooks at socials (the man knows barbecue), fabricates, and is a jack of all trades. Aside from that, he is the guy that knows everyone in Clayton and has opened a lot of doors for us. We would not be where we are right now without him or any of our volunteers.
RN: Finally, is there anything at all you’d like people to know about Clayton Rugby and/or North Carolina rugby you want people to know about?
TH: Come visit us. We love hosting teams and with the number of clubs in our area, we are more than capable of hosting touring sides looking for multiple games. You’ll get some great rugby and a dose of Southern hospitality. Our new facility is going to be open in 2018 and we hope to become a nice destination for clubs in the Northeast and Midwest looking for warm up matches in the Winter and early Spring. On a separate note, I’m always happy to share our success, failures, and everything in between with anyone interested. Club rugby administration is something that is sorely underdeveloped in the USA and I am happy to help other clubs in any way that I can.
RN: Thank you for your time Ted, I appreciate your insight.
TH: Thanks for reaching out. I appreciate the opportunity to share a little about what we’re doing here in Clayton and North Carolina.
Mar 7: Meridian HS, Idaho Pt 1- HC David Heaton
Mar 14: Meridian HS, Idaho Pt 2 – AC Vanessa Monrroy