City Paper is not for tourists
Chris Dunlavey, the chairman of Old Glory DC, the local professional rugby team, did the math. Most of the team’s fanbase drove to its games at Catholic University this past season, he says, and a “very large percentage” of them live in Northern Virginia.
Still, the discussion about moving the team’s home venue to Segra Field in Leesburg for the 2021 season lasted about four months. He understands the team is making a calculated decision that may alienate some of its core base. The drive to Segra Field, a 5,000 capacity stadium that serves as the home to Loudoun United FC, the reserve team for D.C. United, and also hosts a few Washington Spirit games, is about 45 minutes from downtown D.C. by car—without traffic.
“We’re a D.C. team. D.C. is in our name,” Dunlavey tells City Paper. “We’re headquartered in D.C. We’re very dedicated to developing the sport in D.C., so making a move to a location outside of the city, even though it’s to the great booming suburbs, it’s asking our fans to go along with a change.”
In addition to the geographic change, Dunlavey cites the field’s size as advantageous for rugby. A rugby field’s dimensions can vary, but it is typically longer and wider than a football field. Catholic University’s Cardinal Stadium, the team’s previous venue, hosts the school’s football games and DC Breeze, the professional ultimate team based in D.C.
By moving to a larger stadium, Old Glory DC can present rugby in its “purest form,” Dunlavey believes.
“Segra Field, because of the design of the field and because of the design of the seating and stadium, we think it’s by far the best stadium in the region for the presentation of rugby,” he says. “We can have a full regulation rugby field, lined for rugby with rugby goal posts without any compromise to it. That’s particularly important in our case, because our team put together by our head coach, Andrew Douglas, he favors a very wide open, fast moving style of play … It’s really exciting to watch, but you can’t pull it off as well in a narrow space like on an American football field.”
Earlier this year, Old Glory DC started its first official Major League Rugby season with a 4-1 record. The team also sold out its four home games—two in the preseason and two during the regular season—at Cardinal Stadium, which has a capacity of 3,500.
Then the pandemic happened, and the team suspended its season before canceling altogether. As City Paper’s Marisa Ingemi reported in May, the shutdown, while disappointing, may have been a blessing in disguise for a fledgling franchise like Old Glory DC. Shortening the season helped put the team in better shape financially, Dunlavey told City Paper, and five months later, the mixed feelings remain.
“It was good and bad for us,” Dunlavey says. “It broke our hearts to take it away, but on the other hand, we could go back to square one and think about how we go about operations, including our game venue, where we’re doing training, where we’re housing our players, so we made good use of our time. This deal with Segra is the best example of a good thing that came out of it for us … to get us in a more professional stadium situation.”
The team is set to open its 2021 season on the weekend of March 20, but do not have a schedule beyond that. The deal with Segra Field, Dunlavey says, is up to three years, with only next year being guaranteed. Old Glory DC will also have a a separate training location that will be announced in the coming weeks.
A few weeks ago, the team hosted a practice at Segra Field for its academy, which it launched this fall. Next spring, Old Glory DC will have three academy teams, a boys and girls under-19 squad and a men’s only reserve team that will include players college age or older.
The goal is to build a grassroots system and provide a pathway for local youth interested in rugby.
“In future years, we want to extend the network of support all the way down to the youth level, as young as 6 years old,” Dunlavey says.
Old Glory DC invites fans and Leesburg residents to join the team for an open house at Segra Field on Nov. 8 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fans will be able to watch a practice from academy players and hear from Old Glory DC coaches and players. It’ll be a preview of what’s to come in 2021—including the commute.