Young Glory: Building a Pathway to Professional Rugby in the DMV

Old Glory players with young fans | Photo courtesy of Old Glory DC

Rugby, the high-energy contact sport known worldwide, has been rapidly gaining momentum in the United States, thanks in part to professional teams like the DMV’s own Old Glory. The first of its kind in the Washington Metropolitan area, the team, founded in 2018, and its youth program, Young Glory, have been enhancing the lives of those interested in the sport from more than just an athletic standpoint.

As a young child, former professional rugby player Ben Cima and his family relocated to Montgomery County from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cima’s hometown hosts over 80 clubs dedicated to the sport. But when the Cimas moved to the DMV, all hopes of playing the team game were slashed because rugby was not really a thing in the United States.

“When we arrived in the U.S., my dad was thinking, that’s it for rugby—there’s no way we’re going to be able to continue,” Cima says.

Until one day, while driving in Maryland, Cima’s father saw an airborne rugby ball.

“We were driving to soccer practice when my dad saw a rugby ball flying through the air, and he just hooked a hard right into a parking lot,” Cima says. “We got introduced to Dan Soso, who runs the Maryland Exiles, and that was the beginning. I started there when I was 6 or 7 years old.”

Soso began coaching youth rugby in Maryland in the 1980s. This foundation led Cima to play rugby at Gonzaga College High School, in D.C., and, later, in a fruitful professional career. Still, even with that background, a professional pathway didn’t yet exist for American players.

Ben Cima | Photo courtesy of Old Glory DC

“When I started playing for the U.S., there was no major league rugby yet,” Cima says. “At the time, American players who wanted to play in overseas competitions played professionally overseas where the only professional leagues were. Often, those professional leagues have better domestic players who have been playing higher-level rugby for longer than American rugby players. So, there wasn’t a clear pathway for me.”

When Cima returned to the Washington Metro area, he knew he needed to help create that pathway for DMV children. His first call was to Old Glory, where he now works as the organization’s Pathway Director and Coach for Young Glory.

“I came back home, and my whole mission is to build a pathway for kids, so if there’s a kid like me in this area that wants to play professional rugby, I’m the guy who is trying to make it very visible for them,” Cima says.

And it couldn’t come at a better time. The United States now has thousands of rugby clubs and programs and more than a dozen professional teams.

“[Major League Rugby] has provided an end goal for many kids, and the things we’re doing in the youth space are building towards that,” Cima says. “It’s giving kids a view of, ‘Hey, you can do this if you stick your mind to it, and there’s a place for you to grow, and there’s a pathway for you to go through to reach your goals.’ Whereas before, it was very murky. In youth athletics, a different avenue is being opened for parents and kids to be involved. And the more time spent on it, the more organized it’ll be, the clearer the pathway will be and the more people will want to get involved. And it’s up to people like me, Old Glory and my counterparts and colleagues to do the work to make it possible.”

Young Glory teens preparing for professional pathways | Photo courtesy of Old Glory DC

The sport has become so popular in this country that the Rugby World Cup is slated to be played in the U.S. in 2031.

“I cannot put into words what it’s going to do for rugby in this country,” Cima says. “Imagine you’re an American football player who grew up playing American football in London, and now the Super Bowl is being played in London. It’s like that. It will inspire a whole new generation of rugby players in the U.S., and that’s what I’m really excited for.”

In the meantime, Cima’s hopes to help cultivate the future of professional rugby players have come true for at least one Young Glory alumnus—Tristan Cole, who recently signed a professional contract with Old Glory.

“Tristan was always the first one at training, the first one out on the field and the first to be involved in doing his homework,” Cima says.

Once Cole began growing and working out, even competing in power-lifting competitions, Cima knew a professional rugby player was developing. More than that, Cole was an eager learner open to feedback and mentorship.

“He was just always there, and he was always available, which is half the battle,” Cima says. “So, I’m really happy he got one of the contracts. I hope to have more Tristans getting contracts in the upcoming years.”

Cole credits Young Glory as a huge part of his development.

“The coaching and game time helped turn me into the player I am today,” Cole says. “Playing for Old Glory had been my dream since professional rugby came to the DMV. Being able to play for the team that has put so much time into helping me and other youth players grow has been extremely rewarding. It’s really exciting watching rugby grow in the U.S. because I have seen what it can do for kids and how it can make dreams come true.”

Overall, however, amid its booming popularity on American soil, rugby is the ultimate team sport, Cima says, offering children a beneficial outlet for expression.

“I think that rugby is a healthy way to deal with emotions, and there’s a lot of emotional people in this world, and it’s taking raw emotions that might necessarily not be great and channeling them into something that has positive values and working towards a common goal with a team,” Cima says. “It is incredibly important for kids, especially kids that are troubled because it’s hard with all the things that they have to deal with. Sports is a positive way of getting all that energy out.”

Monumental Sports Network is set to broadcast Old Glory’s Major League Rugby matches for the 2024 season. Games are played at the Maryland Soccerplex, in Boyds, Maryland. The Greater Washington Rugby Foundation, or “Young Glory,” is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created to support and grow the game of rugby through grassroots community efforts in the region.

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