I’ve been a lot of places in my life, traversed the globe during my US Air Force career and not much is left on my bucket list but I’ll tell you one thing that has recently been added; I’m watching a rugby match in Alaska at the Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds someday.
Rugby has always intrigued me and I had the opportunity to talk a bit to David Delozier about both rugby in Alaska and the amazing pitch built in the shadows of the Alaskan mountains.
Rugby Nation USA (RN): How long have you been involved in rugby and what got you started?
David Delozier (DD): I’ve been involved with Rugby since playing the British that were part of the CTF (RN: Combined Task Force) stationed at Incirlik in 1993, fell in love with it then and never looked back. By the way, I just retired from AD (active duty) USAF, loved that as well.
RN: How does the Alaska Rugby Union (ARU) fit into USA Rugby? I don’t see you represented in the competitive structure.
DD: Its an outsider and not by design but strictly from playing season. We are limited to a summer only season which makes college sides impossible (students out of school). This season we start 27 May and end 19 August. We actually have more playing days left in the tank in September and October but wrap up early versus having a double CIPP season. USA rugby starts each season 1 Sept.
RN: What’s the rugby environment like in Alaska (club, youth, high school)?
DD: The Union has been in existence since 1973 and youth was founded in 2014. Both levels are thriving at the moment. The Mountain Grounds was a catalyst for a lot of this growth, the place is a rugby goldmine and the word is spreading. we host (will host) Golden Oldies, Adult Men and Women and HS groups using the AKMRG as a perfect venue for visitors. We got caught up in the 2016 Olympics and that was a boost to numbers and we were blessed with resident superstar Alev Kelter coming back to her home state in between matches to facilitate more growth. ATAVUS and her were pivotal in the Eagles ladies team working up here in 2015, and we expect them back before the 2018 world cup 7s ramp up. We also just had World Rugby staying up on the site and expect a piece released soon. they captured the site, Alev with family, and our youth playing a snow rugby match.
RN: How many clubs (men and women) are in the ARU?
DD: There’s 13 teams total; 8 men and 5 women. Youth has 4 clubs and each has HS 7s, U14 7s, U12/U9/U6 playing Rippa rugby. Most based in Anchorage but we have a men’s club in Kenai and both men and women 350 miles north in Fairbanks our old boys boasts 282 players.
RN:,How do you go about recruiting players?
DD: Websites, Facebook, club community events (Polar plunge for Special Olympics and Scottish Highland games etc) and good old word of mouth.
RN: What division level does ARU have; D-I to D-IV?
DD: We have two divisions, but nothing like lower 48. We call it D1 and D2 to delineate experienced and newer member clubs but if I was to compare it to lower 48 play, it would be D2/D3 equivalent. We do have some studs in our ranks though, Samoan national camp players, All-Army players, an Olympic hopeful, and previous D1 players, so can combine as the Alaska All-Stars and give any visiting side a go.
RN: Tell me about the Midnight Sun 7s? Who usually participates?
DD: Historically Midnight Sun was just a fun tourney for the local clubs and some of our Canadian brothers, so much fun that new teams would form for it. Dirty 30s for older guys and the Belugas for our….ahem, larger players weighing over 240 each. this year, the 22nd annual, we stepped up our game based on a suggestion from Andrew Locke and created an elite division. This season we have Talavalu (Amerika Samoa), Army Rugby, Stars 7s, Manu Bears committed. we created this new division in October 2016 and most of the world elite clubs already had their budget solidified. we expect many more in 2018 and beyond. The clubs still play and visiting clubs can choose the level they want to enter.
RN: The Alaska Mountain Rugby Grounds is a beautiful facility, watching a match there is on my bucket list; what was the genesis of building such a rugby destination in Alaska?
DD: Read The Dream. Quite a vision from my buddy Justin!
RN: Has USAR reached out to hold a tournament at AMRG?
DD: USAR and many of the who’s who of USA rugby have spent some time at the place and if they haven’t been up they have an open invitation; its a great place for a retreat or smaller tourneys.
RN: How large of a tournament can the AMRG support?
DD: It is only one pitch, we have 5 more pitches in the local area, but the grounds stands alone. Great for semi-finals or finals if there was a larger tourney or elite pool play.
RN: What else would you like people to know about rugby in Alaska and the AMRG?
DD: We’re open for everyone! If you love rugby we love you. From a single visitor to clubs that travel with old boys, open side, and youth together for a huge Alaskan adventure we’re here. We have a rugby intern program that allows people to live there for the summer while playing rugby locally, so much better than couch surfing! People can choose to stay downtown near nightlife or stay at the property. This July we are hosting Mangatainoka RFC, a club comprised of Classic All-Blacks and Super 18 players, and we have the Classic Eagles taking on the Classic Canadians at the same time and I have to mention Justin’s other rugby dream that is very close to happening; a Saracens vs Crusaders match played up on the site while both clubs live in the to–be built hotels on the site.
RN: I want to thank you so much for your time. I can’t wait to visit the AMRG.
DD: We are excited to share, you are welcome anytime!