SARANAC LAKE - Many local hotels and motels are booked solid, restaurants and shops are expected to be bustling, and the on-field competition should be fierce.
Can-Am Rugby weekend is back for its 41st year. The annual tournament runs from Friday through Sunday on fields in Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Bloomingdale.
More than 100 teams from across the Northeast and Canada are expected to compete, bringing a major economic boost to the Tri-Lakes area.
2013 Can-Am Rugby action
(File photo — Lou Reuter)
Last year, the 105-team tournament drew an estimated 6,600 people, including rugby players, referees, officials and their families and friends, according to the Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. ROOST Communications Director Kim Rielly said the 2013 tournament had an estimated economic impact between $2.3 million and $2.6 million, which includes spending on lodging, retail and restaurants.
"That's fairly conservative," Rielly said. "We're estimating that's participants and their families are expending $100 per person, per day. Rugby ranks, for us, certainly in the top five of the annual regional events that have the greatest economic impact here. And what's great about rugby is it's affecting the entire Tri-Lakes area."
Katie Van Anden, executive director of the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, said she expects this year's tournament will once again provide a big boost to Saranac Lake's economy.
"During Ironman (last weekend) we had a few openings in our local hotels and motels, but not many," Van Anden said. "As for rugby, we're full. We'll see some last-minute cancellations. The hoteliers are really good about giving us a call if they have anything open up so we can send people their way."
Van Anden noted that more and more rugby tournament attendees are renting houses for the weekend or longer, but not to the point where she thinks it's taking much business away from hotels and motels.
"It's interesting because a lot of people don't love opening up their houses for rugby and lacrosse weekends, but I think the ruggers are losing their rugged reputation and are totally welcome," she said.
Terry Tubridy, a Can-Am board member, said the tournament's history of rowdy behavior is largely a thing of the past.
"I moved up here in 2006, and that year there was incident at a local hotel and it was in line with the tournament being this bacchanalia of drinking and whatever else," he said. "These days, it is a lot more family-oriented. More people are bringing their families, and as their kids get older, they're starting to play."
Jay Annis, who's been in charge of the tournament since 2005, said it continues to be a big draw primarily because of the support from the local communities.
"I think, more than anything, the village of Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid, have opened their arms and they love these events," he said. "They make it so friendly for people who come, and it's not an expensive place to be. You can camp out, or you can get a hotel, a condo or a house to rent."
"And people have made it a tradition. We've got teams that have been coming every year. The Brockport Doggies have been coming since day one. I think they're up to six or eight teams they bring."
While the tournament has a large contingent of "old boys" teams, many of which have come here year in and year out, Annis said organizers are trying to attract more young people. Initially, he admitted, there was reluctance to do so from some of the tournament's older players who are often the coaches of the younger teams, "because then they'd have to not only play; they'd have to coach."
That's changed in the last few years. The tournament now includes rookie or flag rugby matches for kids ages 6 to 12. A large contingent of high-school-age kids will also participate in the youth (U-19) division, which features shorter, seven-on-seven matches.
"It started out as just fun and now, I think there's going to be 10 high-school-age teams this year," Annis said. "First of all, it's almost a kind of a day care. Parents can sign their kids up, and we have a whole program for them. And we're making future ruggers."
Annis noted that seven-on-seven rugby will make its debut as an Olympic sport in 2016.
"Our goal is to get some kid, boy or girl from New York state, on that Olympic team," he said. "New York state is really producing some top-end rugby programs, from the colleges and the high schools. My daughter (Baylee Annis) is a collegiate All-American who started a high school program here. Sheila Decker (of Saranac Lake) was just chosen to be on the U-20 national team."
As Annis spoke with the Enterprise Wednesday, he was working with a group of volunteers to get the fields ready for the tournament: putting up goal posts, painting lines and setting up sideline barriers.
In Saranac Lake, the matches will be played on the fields of Petrova Elementary and Saranac Lake Middle School, the field in the center of the Saranac Lake High School track, the high school football practice field and Schroeter's Field on Ampersand Avenue. The Lake Placid games will take place at the town of North Elba's fields located off of Recycle Circle. The championship matches will be held Sunday in Bloomingdale, on the fields behind the fire department.
The schedule of what teams will play where is still in flux, Annis said.
Although most games won't begin until Friday, for the second consecutive year organizers are hosting quad, or wheelchair, rugby, starting Thursday and continuing into Friday at the North Country Community College Sparks Athletic Complex. Last year, two co-ed quad rugby teams went head to head. This year, the quad bracket features six teams.
"It's become a dream for us to get this up and running," Annis said of quad rugby.
Tubridy said the tournament does more than provide an economic charge to the area. Organizers have provided scholarships to schools and donations to various local organizations.
"We're trying to show that it does do a lot for the community," he said.
Over the last two years, Can-Am organizers have donated a total of $19,506 to a range of groups including the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid school districts, the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid youth centers, the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee, the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department and the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad.
The Can-Am board has also handed out more than $5,000 in scholarships to students at NCCC, Paul Smith's College and college-bound graduates of Saranac Lake High School. Organizations such as the Saranac Lake 5th Quarter Club, the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department and Rotary Club have also been allowed to raise funds as food vendors free of any commission fees.
For more information on this year's tournament, visit canamrugby.com.