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Pick of the Scrum

The Albany Knickerbockers Rugby Football Club auction themselves to help fund their rapidly growing sport

by Erin Pihlaja on December 27, 2012

 

A nervous tension was in the air at Brown’s Revolution Hall last Thursday night (Dec. 20). Two emcees stood on a stage in the front of the room, and as the chatter died down, they addressed the crowd, which by the count from the door numbered just under 200.

Under the lights of the stage and with microphones in hand, they explained to the group the rules of the upcoming event—a charity auction. “Bid early and bid often,” said one of the hosts and, following the short list of regulations, came to a final declaration: “No warranties.”

The auction was organized by the Albany Knickerbockers Rugby Football Club, known as the Knicks, and the items up for bid were 30 of the male and female players themselves.

photo by Erin Pihlaja

“We needed to do something out of the box,” said Caitlin Casey, a rugby player and the director of fundraising for the club. She noted that economic times have made fundraising more of a challenge and that things are only getting more expensive for the club. One reason is that the women’s team won the Division 2 nationals two years ago and was reclassified to Division 1 status.

“D1 teams are usually only in bigger cities like New York or Boston. We’re putting Albany on the map because we’re doing so well,” Casey said in a press release prior to the event. She also explained, “The traveling is way more intense. We have farther to fly and the hotels, car rentals—it all comes out of the players’ pockets.”

In addition to the new costs, there are plenty of other expenses the club is responsible for. “This is a non-sponsored sport,” said Charles Colley, the club president who has also played with the Knicks since 1990. “We have to purchase uniforms, balls, practice equipment, and offset costs for travel. We play on the city-owned fields but we lease them from the city and we maintain them. Everything from the shed to the goal posts is ours.”

The club has had success with more traditional forms of fundraising in the past. Their annual golf tournament was always popular, but after one of their players suffered a life threatening spinal cord injury during a 2010 game, they’ve dedicated all of the proceeds from that event to a trust in his name. “There’s a camaraderie in rugby,” said Casey. “The support system is amazing, and we didn’t want to steal his thunder with another golf tournament.” Looking for other ways to make ends meet, Casey brainstormed and approached the club with the idea of the date auction.

“Everyone thought this was crazy at first,” she said. “It was risky.” On auction night, skeptical players from the women’s and men’s teams, along with players from the Old Boys’ team, all put themselves on the block to help out the club. Each date included a gift certificate donated by a local business. Some were for dinners at restaurants, others were for classes like boxing or ballroom dancing. The players wore formal attire and paraded across the small stage to music that fit their personalities. Some performed silly dance moves or stunts to get the crowd excited.

It was a rowdy night, and as it wore on, the bids went higher. “It took a lot of guts,” said Colley, who also was auctioned off. “It was kind of odd putting yourself out there but it was fun. It was a huge success.”

“At first, I was so relieved to see people walking through the door,” said Casey, who was auctioned off for $385, the highest bid of the night. “We raised close to $4,000—it superseded all of my expectations.”

Casey won’t reveal all of her tricks, but said that wilder events, like cow chip bingo, might be on the table for next year. She has a lot of other plans for creative fundraising, and now that rugby has been approved as an Olympic sport for the 2016 games, she is ready to up the ante. “Everybody is going to want to play,” she said. “We’re one of the most successful rugby clubs in the Northeast. We are the Albany area club. And we need the community’s support to keep it up.”