Aspen Ruggerfest tournament canceled for 2020; Gents hope for a few matches
One of the longest consecutively running events in Aspen, even Ruggerfest is going to have to give this round to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With so much unknown still out there, chairman John Staub confirmed Friday that the 53rd annual tournament, scheduled for Sept. 17 to 20, won’t take place this fall.
“It’s hard that it’s canceled, but at the moment it’s the responsible thing to do,” Staub said. “We just got to move on. I guarantee Ruggerfest 53 in 2021 is going to be the biggest Ruggerfest ever. Because we are going to get through this.”
One of the most popular rugby tournaments of its kind in the country, Ruggerfest brings in players from coast to coast — and even from across the globe — including many who compete at the collegiate and professional levels. The pitches at both Rio Grande Park and Wagner Park in downtown Aspen are lined with fans by the hundreds who surround the field each fall.
Because of COVID-19, this spectacle, like so many others, will have to wait a year.
“Part of the situation is we just can’t predict what is going to happen, with bringing people in from all parts of the United States,” Staub said. “It just doesn’t feel right to do it.”
Ruggerfest held its first tournament in 1968, won by the Kansas City Blues. Every year since then a champion has been crowned. This includes the host side, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club, which has won Ruggerfest 21 times, the latest coming in 2018.
Not only is the fall showcase off the table, but the Gents’ summer season is all but scrapped as well.
Aspen coach Ben Mitchell, who plays professionally for the San Diego Legion of Major League Rugby, hopes the Gents can begin to officially practice this coming week, but matches are likely to be few and far between, if at all.
In normal years, the Gents would have started playing by the second weekend of June and go through early-to-mid August before a short lull leading up to Ruggerfest. Aspen’s summer roster and Ruggerfest roster aren’t necessarily identical, as many come in just for the standalone tournament.
“Things would usually really be ramping up now. It’s definitely unusual,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully next week we’ll be starting up practice officially and we’ll be following all the rules. We’ll have temperature checks for all the players before and sanitizing all the balls and making sure everyone is hand sanitizing beforehand and such.”
The planned summer schedule, which would have included a few home games, is essentially a wash. However, Mitchell did say the club has been in talks to possibly play in matches in New Mexico and Utah over the summer. Even a single match in Aspen over the coming months seems highly unlikely.
The Gents have a side of roughly 25 players in the Roaring Fork Valley ready to go, if the opportunity comes, and Mitchell said they’ve been trying to make the most of the situation.
“We’ve been pretty busy,” Mitchell said. “A lot of us are playing golf pretty regularly. Everyone is meeting up for hikes and stuff like that, so the club is still pretty active and everyone is socializing together. We are just waiting to see when we can play some rugby.”
Staub and Mitchell indicated that September might not be completely void of rugby. While Ruggerfest is canceled, they hope to organize something in its place, even if it’s just some of the rugby enthusiasts getting together for a pint.
Ruggerfest 53 is now slated for Sept. 16 to 19, 2021.
“The city can’t give us the OK on it until the last minute, and that’s not their fault, at all. It’s just a circumstance we are having to deal with right now,” Staub said of this year’s tournament. “We will be back. It’s by no means the end of the event in any way, shape or form. It’s just we are postponed.”