38 teams from across New York City and the surrounding area made, what was for some a long trip to Columbia University’s Baker Field Sports Complex, to stake their claim to become the champions of the Second Annual Mayor's Cup Flag Rugby Festival.
Increasing the number of teams (+ 65 percent), sponsors (+ 300 percent), volunteers (+ 100 percent), matches (+65 percent) and referee's (+ 300 percent) from last year's event, this 2009 was set to be a fantastic day of fast, fun, flag rugby. From title sponsorship by HSBC Bank, N.A to the commitment of NYC's DOE staff and CHAMPS coaches, the whole tournament did not disappoint, blowing away even last year's great experience.
The day started when a small army of volunteers descended upon Baker Field not long after sun rise Saturday morning to prepare the nine fields that would see over 90 games of flag rugby that day, set up registration, food concession, information and rugby gear sales stands, put up tens of signs and turn the sports complex into a rugby haven.
Teams trickled in from around 08:30, registered and picked up their exclusive international replica rugby jerseys kindly designed, manufactured and donated by Canterbury of New Zealand. Each team represented one of 23 nations chosen by the last 20 teams in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, and to accommodate teacher/school's natural affiliations. There was soon a buzz of anticipation in the air as teams put on their new jerseys, began warming up and the official start time of 10 a.m. approached.
Just over 450 students assembled in the bleachers as President of Play Rugby, Inc, Mark Griffin made the official announcements and got the tournament underway, the format of which matched this year's 7-a-side World Cup format, from Dubai.
Two hours and 56 games later the pool stages of the tournament were complete and the teams would know whether they would be competing for the Mayor's "Cup", "Plate" or "Bowl" – depending on their performance in the early rounds. Taking their CHAMPS winter form into the tournament, PS279 proved they deserved to by number 1 seeds by topping the group stages and securing a path into the Cup competition, coincidentally they were representing the world number one ranked team New Zealand. The elementary teams also finished their pool play and joined the middle school teams on the main field for the knock out stages.
The bleachers were full, bursting with colors as players wearing their international team jerseys awaited their next game. Play continued as teams were eliminated from the tournament and despite a few tears many remained among the supporters to cheer on the other teams. Additionally, a World Rugby Shop sponsored "Rookie Rugby Challenge" and a Velocity Sports Performance run SPARQ fitness area kept players engaged, and indeed very active even outside of game-play.
The introduction of the three different trophies this year enabled more teams to experience the thrill of playing in a semi final or final and possibly taking home some silverware. The Bowl and Plate finals for each age group were fantastic affairs with some excellent rugby, sportsmanship and dedication on show. Two schools new to rugby in PS/IS 218 in the Bronx (Japan) and PS 156 from Brooklyn (Italy) took the Bowl awards for middle and elementary divisions respectively. Pelham Rugby Club had plenty to celebrate when their elementary and middle school teams scooped the awards in the Plate Finals both representing Australia.
This then set the stage for the main event of the day - the Mayor's Cup Final – which was to be contested in the middle school bracket by two of the most successful flag rugby teams since Play Rugby USA's inception. Last year's Mayor's Cup champions IS 392, from Brooklyn and representing Romania would play this winter's CHAMPS tournament winners PS 279 from the Bronx representing New Zealand. What happened next will live long in the memory of everybody at the tournament. As all eyes focused on the main pitch the "Romanian" team lined up along the half way line linking arms whilst the "New Zealand" team arranged themselves in a formation very familiar to rugby lovers around the world. The group of 11, 12, and 13 year old boys and girls from the Bronx in an effort to identify with the culture and history of New Zealand rugby performed the famous Haka - word for word, move for move. The crowd was mesmerized and a massive roar of cheers and applause filled the stadium when they finished the traditional Maori war dance.
The standard of rugby matched the build up and both teams traded tries in the first half showing fantastic team work, skill, and athleticism to cross the white wash. In the second half the Brooklyn based team from IS 392 showed why they were last year's Mayors Cup winners displaying some unbelievable pace, agility and coordination that allowed them to pull two tries clear of their cross-town rivals. The Kiwi representatives PS 279 determined to get back in the game and never giving up bombarded the Romanian defense as wave after wave of black shirts attacked. However, the well organized defensive line didn’t breach and 392 held on to a well deserved back-to-back Mayor's Cup title.
Congratulations to every player, coach, teacher and supporter participating in this year's event. It is a lot to ask to get to the top of Manhattan early on a Saturday morning and we appreciate the effort put forth by everyone involved.
This year's tournament was an amazing experience to be a part of. The feedback we have received so far has been incredibly positive and in some instances overwhelming with references to the program and game having been "life changing" for both students and certain educators involved with Play Rugby USA. Needless to say, we can't wait to build upon this success and do it all again next year!
Until then we look forward to introducing the s port to thousands more students through their after school programs, schools and community based organizations. We would encourage all reading this to work with us as we make flag rugby New York City's number 1 youth sport.
The PRUSA team
Photos from the event can be found below:
www.flickr.com/photos/taiwanmike/sets/72157619301723965/ (Taiwan Mike)
gallery.me.com/playrugbyusa#100048 (Marc Alldridge)
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