Park City rugby club keeps 4th of July tradition alive
The traditional game was held on Friday afternoon at City Park
Baseball is typically seen as the American summer pastime, but in Park City, rugby on Independence Day feels as American as the red, white and blue itself.
Former Park City rugby player Jack Walzer started playing with the team in the 1980s, back when the local club was known as the Park City Muckers. He says that the annual Independence Day rugby game dates back to the early 1970s. Back then, the Muckers would face their archrivals, the Haggis club from Salt Lake City, in one of the biggest events in Park City all summer as thousands watched the game play out.
“You spent the 4th of July watching a rugby game against their rivals, so that became like the Super Bowl of games back in the day,” he said. “It just was something that was played continuously for so many years, and everybody looked forward to it and that was part of the day.”
Walzer moved to Park City in 1982, and the game itself reminds him of how he spent his summers back in the day.
“That’s what we did,” he said. “You chilled out in the summer because nobody was here and you played rugby all summer. It was awesome.”
Since then, the annual game has changed a bit. Park City’s team merged with its bitter rivals in Salt Lake City to form Haggis Rugby Club after Park City was struggling to find enough players to field a team. The merger has not only kept the annual Independence Day game alive, it has kept rugby in the area afloat as well.
“If they went their separate ways, then there probably wouldn’t be any rugby at all in Park City anymore,” Walzer said. “Because it got to the point back in, I don’t know what it was, 15 years ago, where you had 10 or 11 players in Park City. And you can’t really field a team with that many players. But now you have a very broad base to pull from. It keeps that game alive.”
Instead of a fierce rivalry, the game has turned into more of a community event. This year’s game was held at City Park from noon to 7 p.m. Friday.
“I think over the last (10 years), it’s changed a little bit because, you know, people just go down there to party and it’s just another activity on the field,” Walzer said. “I think it’s more of a community fixture right now than the community going, ‘I’m going to go see our team play this team and see who wins,’ right?”
The game also functions as a fundraiser for the club, the only one it will host all year. That aspect is really important because it didn’t have a game last year. The club will sell food and beer to fund an entire year’s worth of rugby.
Park City has changed significantly since the early 1970s, but the annual Fourth of July rugby game remains a fixture of the town’s festivities. And Walzer hopes it will continue to be moving forward.
“It’s just good to see with, you know, so many things that get dispersed or thrown away or forgotten about that the community still embraces that tradition on the Fourth,” Walzer said. “I think that’s cool and it’s important and I hope it continues.”
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The soccer tournaments run from July 29 through July 31.