Bart Cuomo has a confession to make. It's that he can't really say exactly how old the Ski Town Rugby Tournament is. When pressed, he admits that the origins may be lost in a haze of beer. Beer, of course, being as much a part of a rugby match as a scrum. What Cuomo can tell you, though is that the Tournament, which the Vail Rugby Club hosts this weekend, August 6-7, at the rugby field at the south side of Ford Park is at least 40 years old, making it one of the oldest continuous and ongoing sporting events in the Rockies. It's the kickoff to two weekends of world-class play at the Ford, which includes a women's tournament and an "old boys" tournament the weekend of August 13-14, when the official rugby season in the mountains wraps up.
Like you'd surmise from the Tournament's name, the featured teams are all linked to ski areas: Vail, Breckenridge, Steamboat and Aspen all have teams, and the Tournament is shared between them on a rotating basis. According to Cuomo, there's been a few exceptions, when the Tournament has traveled to such exotic locations such as Jackson Hole. But that's in the past now and all you really need to know is that it's going to be in Vail this weekend and it's going to feature plenty of high-quality rugby and plenty of beer. You also need to know that in spite of the beer and the imposing presence that many rugby players have, that they're - for the most part - gentle giants off the pitch and that they'd like you to come to this event so that they can share their beer - and love of rugby - with you.
If that sounds odd, it isn't. Rugby is a sport that creates strong bonds among players, fans, families and communities. Cuomo is living proof of this. He's been part of the Vail Rugby Club for 33 years, and has served in a variety of positions with the team. It's been, he says, a rich experience. Because of the international appeal of the game, Cuomo has played with and against people from all over the world right here in our little valley. "We get kids from South Africa or Australia showing up for the summer, and when they find out there's rugby in the valley, they join the team," says Cuomo.
That international flavor is why Vail's team is one of the best in the state, Vail has won this weekend's tournament three times and has won the Mountain League four out of six years running and, says Cuomo, while they're not the favorite to win the Tournament this year, they still have a shot. "We'll have to play our best," he says. "And hope for some luck and maybe that someone doesn't play their best." But even if they don't win, there will still be beer.
"After the tournament the teams have 'boat races' and some of the teams that don't do so well on the field do very well with those," says Cuomo, laughing. "It's a good time."
For more information on the Vail Rugby Club, tournament schedules and how you can get involved, go here.