This may be a club you’ve heard about just because of their unusual name. You may have heard of them if you played in Southern California Rugby Football Union’s (SCRFU) D4 or DIII competition, or you may have heard of them because they ran the table and went 12-0 in SCRFU’s D4 last year. Then again you may not have ever heard of them! Either way we wanted to get to know more about these boys who are the source of rugby in SoCal’s high desert area.
We reached out to Christian Weathers, the President and Founder of the Dead Rabbits Rugby Club who hail out of SoCal’s High Desert, in this case the Victor Valley area. We were able to learn more about the Dead Rabbits and also get some insight into what we’ll be seeing from them in this coming season. Below is our interview with the Dead Rabbits President.
The Rugby Republic (RR): Since SCRFU is trying to eliminate its D4 and really consolidate clubs into two conferences in DIII, will you be playing up in DIII then this year?
Christian Weathers (CW): Yes. After going undefeated last year we moved up to D3. Honestly I am not entirely sure how or why the division is set up that way, but we are ready for anyone to that comes our way.
RR: People want to know, how did you guys come up with the club’s name? Did the old NYC Irish Gangs of 1850s inspire it?
CW: Yes. In short, the gang was nicknamed the Dead Rabbits after Irish immigrant slang. Dead = Very (ex. dead wrong) and Raibead = tough guy, man to be feared. Raibead sounds a lot like rabbit, so Dead Rabbits are "Men to be very feared” check out our pregame chant on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csldXaryhp8). We have adopted the red and white stripes as our colors, which were the gang’s colors in real life and in "Gangs of New York"
RR: When was the club established? You are fairly a new club?
CW: January 2010. We are starting our 6th season.
RR: So you are based in Apple Valley (are most your players from the local high desert (i.e.. Victor Valley/Victorville, Hesperia any from Barstow or over the hill in San Bernardino)?
CW: We have players from all over the high desert/Victor Valley and almost half are from Barstow. We have players as far away as Ridgecrest (2 hours away). We are completely home grown and keep everything tied in closely with our community. Apple Valley is the HQ, but we are the High Desert's Rugby Club.
RR: Did you have any players try out and/or make the SCRFU Griffin's side? And do you think a program like the Griffins will help your club draw more players?
CW: No scheduling and communication conflicts kept our guys from going to tryouts. I don't think Griffins is a factor in recruiting due to the fact that no one outside of SCRFU knows what it is. I think Olympics and the increase in TV coverage by NBC is the best recruiter.
Club rugby is missing a huge opportunity in not using NBC's coverage to build up the sport. Putting our assets and attention into marketing, local advertising and infrastructure should be top priority. Rugby is blowing up in the United States quickly, and we should be focusing on that. If some guy is flipping through the channels and finds a rugby match and is interested in playing, how will he find out where to start? We want people in our community to know about us already, so when they come across that match on TV, they know right where to turn.
Better websites, easier navigation and marketing is what we should be investing in. If we had a live, up to date scoring and stat system online for the whole union, that would be a great recruiter. Dead Rabbits has been built with the mindset of a semi-pro team with those things in mind. If we were a pro team what would we have? If some company or investor woke up and said they wanted to make a professional rugby team, I want to be ready to be that team. I don’t think we are that far off from it being a reality for any club.
RR: You have a youth program. Did that come first or did the men's club? Is the boys high school program a feeder for your club side?
CW: Our first year forming the men’s team we started the HS Boys. Our Coach, Steve Lohmeyer, is a teacher and started bringing some students of his to the men’s practice and it quickly grew. By the beginning of fall, we had practices with 20 Boys and 30 Men, and formed the U18 Boys. Their (The HS Boys) first year they made playoffs. The following year, 2011, we started a U18 Girls team and have run both ever since. We look to move younger players and get U14 and U12 by next summer. The Club is based on the European model. Our goal is to have rugby available from "The cradle to the grave". The HS teams are still "Dead Rabbits". Everything is shared and ran as a group. Men’s players help out the youth in training. All sponsors of the club support all our programs as a group . In 2016 we will have added a woman’s side also.
RR: How has your club sustained its numbers? We know some of the high desert communities are isolated so is it hard to get players?
CW: The small community of the high desert is a blessing and a curse. Our population to pull players from is smaller than any other club in So Cal. As we have grown we have focused on marketing, so we have done well with numbers. My goal as club director is to make Dead Rabbits a household name. With it being a small community there is no excuse on why we cant be an institution in our community. We are working towards our matches being an event and source of entertainment. When we take the field representing the high desert, and a win is for the whole community. Nothing better than reading the sports section and seeing "Dead Rabbits defeat Los Angels or San Diego" Gives something for everyone to be proud of.
RR: How do you guys recruit other than the marketing (is it tied to your youth programs)?
CW: Our HS teams funnel into our adult teams (we are adding a woman's team in 2016 so the girls from HS can go into that team), but that is a small percentage. Recruiting comes from getting our name out. Social media, radio, newspaper, community events, what ever we can do to get in front of people. Our marketing never has an off-season. We run the club like a small business, constantly looking for an opportunity to introduce our club to new people. By doing that, interested players hear about us a couple times and start to come out. You have to keep your online presence strong and current at all times.
RR: What are your goals for this year in SCRUF s DIII? You guys ran the table last year, do you think you can do that again?
CW: We are confident in our players and our type of rugby. We didn’t start the season last year thinking about going undefeated. The cliché of "one game at a time" was the philosophy. We changed our game management, played each game as hard and well as we could and came out winning each week. That’s what we look to do in 2016 in SCRFU’s DIII. DIII this year is made up of a wide range of skill levels. D2-former D4, so it will be much more challenging. The teams that we are facing for the first time haven’t seen our type of rugby. We are ready for them all, one week at a time. We believe we have the best skilled players in So Cal, and we are looking at testing the country at Nationals. Running the table isn’t the goal, but winning every week is.
RR: Do you feel that you will have a more challenging year this year, or do you feel your teams experience from last year will prepare you all and give you the momentum for last year?
CW: Most of our players have returned. Our depth is incredible. We have had a couple of additions of experienced players and some HS players come up. We have the same look as last year.
RR: How will the new structure in DIII for SCRUF make things easier? Easier on travel?
CW: Travel is the same for us. And it doesn't effect our numbers. We travel well. I don’t see the new structure as any sort of issue for us.
RR: Does your club foresee moving up to DII in the next few years? If yes is there a plan, if no what would be the deterrent.
CW: Yes., we will continue to move forward and be progressive. D2, D1 or PRP. We are willing to put in the work to grow as much as we can and push the sport as far as we can with our resources and abilities.
RR: How important is the social side of rugby for your club?
CW: Socials are the payment for hard work and hard play. The thing that sets rugby apart from other sports is tradition and it is important to keep that going.
RR: Why should people take notice if they haven't of the Dead Rabbits?
CW: We are focused on making rugby mainstream and believe that our philosophy and structure is the way to make that happen. We are not a group of guys just looking to play rugby and go home. We are a club, tied into the community and working towards something bigger. We play hard, smart, fun rugby. We work hard at our craft and our expectations are high
RR: Anything you want to add?
CW: Search for us and see what we are about. #deadrabbitsliveforever.
We want to thank Christian and the Dead Rabbits for their time. Best of luck to the boys. Make sure you check them out online and keep up with their efforts especially if you live in the area.
Follow them @deadrabbitsrugby or on Facebook- Dead Rabbits Rugby.