Age Is Only a Number
You have to be old enough to play Golden Oldies Rugby.
Since 1979, Golden Oldies Rugby has existed to give players who have retired from serious competitive play a chance to remain connected to a sport they love.
Golden Oldies Rugby requires only one rule to gain entry into this time-honored sport’s association: You must be old enough.
Fred Alexander knows. The former college football player—first at Texas A&M and later at Texas Tech—took up rugby when he moved to Denver at the ripe age of 27, eight years shy of Golden Oldies membership for men.
That was 51 years ago. Now, at 78, this retired architect still savors the chance to suit up for his team, the Colorado Senior Ol’ Boys Rugby Football Club. He enjoys the competition, fellowship, and camaraderie, minus the extreme physical punishment this sport oftentimes inflicts on its participants when played at high levels.
Along the way, Alexander became more than just a fervent rugby player. He also became an ambassador to get the sport more exposure in the United States, a mission he accomplished in a rather big way by persuading VSL Events, a New Zealand–based organization, to stage the biennial Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival in Denver in June.
“I’ve been working on getting this thing to get to Colorado since 2005,” says Alexander, the United States’ representative and head of the organizing committee. He learned that Denver had been awarded the 2020 event at the last festival, held two years ago in Christchurch, New Zealand. “I kept bugging the organization to have it in Denver, and it finally happened.”
According to event manager Gabriel Morales, the Golden Oldies Rugby Festival attracts more than 100 teams from 16 countries to Stenger Sports Complex in Arvada. From June 8 to 15, each team plays in three matches, sprinkled around a variety of other activities, including traditional opening ceremonies at Infinity Park in Glendale along with picnic day, rest day, and finale function and awards dinner, among others. Somewhere in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 players are expected to take part in the event, which is making its first United States appearance since San Diego hosted the 2005 event.
One of the features that makes the event appealing—as well as financially possible for some—is the flexibility to stagger out packages and accommodations fees over five installments spanning more than 18 months.
So what makes Golden Oldies different? First, to play, men can’t be younger than 35, women 30. There is no maximum age. In addition, as opposed to standard rugby, which is played in two 40-minute halves, Golden Oldies shortens the contests to three 20-minute periods. And there are certain modifications to rules of contact if a player is 60 or older regarding tackling or contact altogether. Those players wear red (60, can be contained, not tackled), gold (65, cannot be tackled), or purple (70, cannot be tackled or touched) shorts.
Also, there is no “cleaning out” around the rucks and mauls among the number of variations that limit contact, overaggressive play, and chances for injury. After all, Golden Oldies, in its event brochure, bills its organization as one built around a spirit of “fun, friendship, and fraternity.”
“I’m 78, and I still play,” says Alexander, who suited up for the Denver Barbarians and Lamar Dust Devils back in his younger days. “I work out three days a week and walk my two dogs daily.”
In its original form, rugby is made up of 15 players on each side—also known as a “union”—whose objective is to carry the ball over the opponent’s goal line and ground it for a score, also known as a “try.” Players can carry the ball forward, but the ball must be passed backward or laterally. Points accumulate through a try (five points), conversion (two), and penalty kicks or drop goals (three). The ball is constantly moving, and play doesn’t stop unless a team has scored, the ball goes out of bounds, or a penalty is assessed.
Denver is no stranger to top-notch rugby. Since 1968—the year before Alexander moved to Denver—the Mile High City has hosted the Denver Sevens Rugby Tournament, which showcases the sport with only seven players a side playing on the same field, which measures 100 meters long by 70 meters wide.
In 2017, the Glendale Raptors (now known as the Colorado Raptors) took to the pitch as one of seven original franchises for the inaugural season of Major League Rugby. The league since has expanded to 12 teams. One year earlier, rugby returned to the Olympic movement after a 92-year drought by appearing in the Rio Summer Olympics.
And in June, a different brand of rugby is coming to Denver with an emphasis not on the competition or final result, but instead on celebrating suiting up and enjoying one’s favorite sport, perhaps for the last time.