After a strong showing at training camps a month ago, more athletes have continued to arrive at the practice sessions for all four teams in the USA Rugby League Southern Conference.
This has created an incredible opportunity for the teams to continue the Minor League System that was started by the Jacksonville Axemen in 2011, which allowed over eighty players to experience Rugby League even if they did not make the Axemen top tier team.
This weekend the Atlanta Rhinos, who now have over thirty registered players, will travel with enough players to allow a Minor League (reserve grade) game to take place prior to the main event. And the Central Florida Warriors will be more than ready as their registered numbers have grown to a USARL leading Forty-Three players on the books. “The plan is to play 9’s (9 a-side) in two fifteen minute halves”, said conference director Spinner Howland. “All four teams have more players than they can accommodate in the top team, so anytime we are able to make a Minor League game work with venue times and other operational considerations, we are going to give as many players as we can the opportunity to play Rugby League.
Along with the entire USA Rugby League, we are trying to grow a pioneering sport, and the best way for that to happen is to be able to say YES to as many players as possible. There is nothing more disheartening than showing up to practice week after week, and still not getting your name called for the team. In a sense it is our effort to embrace a “No Player Left Behind” culture.”
The USA Rugby League prides itself on fostering an environment that will give as many American Athletes the chance to experience the 13-man code of Rugby. The Southern teams echoed this when all agreed that some non-essential items may have to stay on the shelf this year, to allow the budgets to stretch and cover the additional travel and accommodations. Axemen Co-owner Drew Slover was excited see an embrace of the culture across all teams, “Since day one the Axemen have prioritized having more guys playing our sport over almost anything else.
Sure we have absolute operational costs, but then we also have some items that can be trimmed, or at least lowered, in our effort to put give more guys a chance to play the game. To see this belief as part of the core value of the new teams is awesome. I have no doubt that the growth of our game is in very good hands.”
The players and team operators have also stepped up to make the Minor League games happen. The Atlanta Rhinos players were asked if they would be willing to sleep three to a room to make the accommodation budget work, and 100% of them said yes without hesitation. Rhinos coach Jordan Smedley was excited at the new development; “I have seen more effort from guys who have never played Rugby League before, than some who have had years in the game. To be able to tell 29 players they are going to get the chance to be a part of the Inaugural Atlanta Rhinos trip is huge. When you have so many players putting in so much effort you always dread having to tell some of them no. To some observers this may seem like a small addition, but to the players who are now getting a chance, it will almost likely have them hooked in our sport for life.”
Team administrators have also agreed to officiate the extra games on a volunteer basis when needed, providing another step to stretch the budget with the focus on the growth of the sport and number of participant athletes.
There is also word coming from the Northern Conference teams that a similar model is now being considered for those teams who have ample player numbers. Overall it seems that 2014 will see more athletes playing Rugby League in the USA than ever before.