When the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy put the ball in the air at 11 AM on Friday morning, the eighth annual RugbyTown Sevens will be off and running at Infinity Park.
The tournament, which began in 2012, has undergone several changes en route to becoming a premier international sevens tournaments. Two people have been there for every twist and turn: Mark Bullock, the Glendale Raptors director of rugby and general manager, and Linda Cassaday, Glendale’s Deputy City Manager. Both played pivotal roles in creating and continuing to put on the tournament. As a result, they have unique perspectives on how the tournament has evolved into the event that it is today.
According to Cassaday, the idea for RugbyTown Sevens actually started as two tournaments and came from a pre-existing fifteens tournament that featured all five branches of the U.S. military. Because this tournament was played on a military base, it was closed to the public.
“We actually had a guy by the name of Gary Helfeldt who was with the Air Force,” Cassaday explained. “He knew about RugbyTown and the City of Glendale and came to us and pitched the idea of changing it to an International Defense Sevens that would feature military teams from all over the world and be a sevens tournament instead of a fifteens. He really felt with the Olympics gearing towards a sevens model that sevens would be the predominant sport. He also liked the idea of a tournament being played in the public where the public could come see it instead of on a base somewhere.”
The 2012 International Defense 7s took place on August 18 and 19 and featured all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the British Army, the Royal Air Force, the Australian Army and the French Armed Forces. The Serevi RugbyTown Sevens, which took place the following weekend, featured 16 teams from all over the world that competed for a $10,000 cash prize.
“We invited teams from around the country and also one really highly regarded team from England called the Samurai,” Cassaday said. “The USA Falcons played, which is the USA Eagles when they aren’t playing in an international test match, and had a great competition that year. The Falcons actually won it that first year.”
After witnessing how successful the first year was, the decision was made to combine the two tournaments into one big tournament. A pool was dedicated to the branches of the U.S. military with the international military teams sprinkled throughout the rest of the tournament. This allowed for the Military Championship to continue on while also allowing the military teams to compete for the grand prize. The inclusion of the military teams beefed the pool up from 16 teams to 20, which has remained the size the tournament has proceeded with to this day.
“We in effect consolidated everything into one tournament which would allow the military to have a top-level stage for their competition,” Bullock said. “It also allowed their top teams to compete against the other teams that were in the tournament.”
Things have changed for the tournament since 2012, but quality rugby has remained a constant.
“Ideally, what we wanted to do was build the tournament into a top-class international tournament where the top sevens team throughout the world would be interested and willing to come to Colorado,” Bullock said of his team’s goal from the beginning.
That’s exactly what they’ve done and it’s evident in the quality of teams that come through year after year. A look through the past champions reveals that RugbyTown Sevens is where the top teams come to play, as highlighted by the attendance of Fiji Savu Water in 2017. That team was composed primarily of players who helped Fiji win the 2016 Olympic Gold in Rio de Janeiro.
“I really enjoy watching the British Army when they come because they really are usually quite talented and their team is generally filled with a lot of Fijians,” Bullock said. “Fiji Sevens is the game. They come with a lot of moxie.”
The commitment to excellence from every angle is what has transformed the RugbyTown Sevens into the premier event that is has become.
“All I can do is go by what the teams tell us because I don’t really have a chance to go to other sevens tournaments,” Cassaday explained. “What the teams tell us is that this is their favorite sevens tournament in the world and that they feel that it’s one of the best-run tournaments in the world. The teams that compete now do compete all over the world. They have teams that are specifically sevens rather than just drawing from an existing fifteens team and players that are becoming a bit more specialized. So these are teams that travel all over the world competing in sevens tournaments and to get that kind of feedback from them that this is one of the best tournaments in the world is truly gratifying because we put so much time and effort into making it not only a great experience for the fans but making it a great experience for the teams.”