Summer Touch Rugby starts this Friday night, June 2nd, 8:00pm-9:30pm, Deem Hills Park
Eclipse Rugby was co-founded in the summer of 2016 by Sam Kelly, Mike Frugone and Chris Everett. Sam was the founder of the North Valley Scorpions youth rugby club five years earlier in the summer of 2011. After five years, Sam was frustrated with the direction of youth rugby and decided to leave rugby behind. However, Mike and Chris, who were new parents at North Valley, did not live in the club's area. They also wanted a better direction in youth rugby and to start a new club closer to where they lived.
Eclipse started with only 5-6 kids at the first few practices in the Fall of 2016, but had 12 kids registered by the end of the Spring 2017 season. We combined with other new clubs to fill teams. We've grown into new full teams at the next older age levels every year since we began. 2022-23 looks to be the first year we have teams at all age levels and divisions.
Despite being a new and small club, our Under-10 touch team went undefeated its 1st season, but lost a very close semifinal and finished 3rd. Starting with our 2nd season, and going into our 7th season, we have since won a U10 Touch Championship, U12/U14 Touch Runner-up, three U10 Tackle Championships, two U12 Tackle Championships, a U14 Runner-up, and our HS Girls playing with the combined AZ Big Dawgs were U18 Champs two seasons ago and U16 Runner-ups last year. All in just 5 years.
Here's how the story goes...
Our 1st year goal was to reach 15 players like the first year of North Valley. We only got to 11, plus a helper from Flagstaff. Although, seven of our 11 players were rookies, our U10 Touch team went undefeated in the regular season and only lost in the semifinal when our top scorer was out of town. Although we didn't field our own U12 team, our U12 players were the stars on the team they merged with, who easily won the AZ U12 Division-2 final.
Despite quick success and awesome players, we already had an uphill battle before the next year. After our first season ended, we lost 4 players almost immediately - all very talented. Two moved out of state and two focused on other interests. One was helping us from Flagstaff who didn't have a youth team. His older brother moved up to HS rugby, so he focused on flag football. A very tough setback for us and so early in our existence.
Despite losing 1/3 of our players from the 1st year, we picked up twice that in new players and grew to 18, barely missing our goal of 20. Our U10s had full Tackle and Touch teams. They dominated the regular season going undefeated in both, and suffered their only loss in the Tackle final, in OT. However, we won the Touch final handily and snagged our first ever league trophies - AZ U10 Touch Champs and U10 Tackle Runner-ups.
We nearly had a full U12 team and picked up two U14 boys, but still had to merge with other clubs for Tackle games. However, the two teams had enough to combine for our own solid U14 Touch team. They surprised the division by the end of the season, despite most being U12s and only three players had prior rugby experience. They capped an already amazing season by their younger clubmates by adding a 3rd trophy as the AZ U14 Touch Runner-up.
Year 3 was another surprising growth year after losing 6 players from the prior year. We replaced that loss and still grew by 7 players over the prior year. We reached 25 players which exactly met our club goal for the first time. We fielded our first full U12 team, increased our U14 numbers, and added two high school players for the first time.
Our U14 and HS players ran with other clubs and had successful experiences. Our U12 was winless, but out of 9 players, 7 were rookies. The icing on the cake was our U10, who finally won the elusive U10 tackle championship they barely missed the year before. That added a 4th league trophy in 3 years to Eclipse's collection.
For the first time we easily surpassed our preseason numbers goal. We aimed for 30 players and reached 36 registered Eclipse players. Combined with North Valley at U14, we fielded our first ever U14 boys team. We also increased U16 boys numbers and started to add U14 girls, but both had to play with other clubs.
Although the year started strong and youth ended well, our hopes to grow into HS Boys were hampered by a fallout with merging clubs, league management and referee incidents that squashed the spirit of many parents and players.
Maybe it was justice, but the HS season was later cut short by the start of Covid-19, which would badly cloud everything the following season. Fortunately, we squeezed in the final week of youth, which saw our U10s repeat as Tackle Champs. Our U12 and U14 both finished 4th and made the playoffs for the first time. U12 significantly improved by winning half their games compared to being winless the prior year.
Many Eclipse players also played on a new AZ travel team started by our coaches, called Young Southwest. They played in the LA Invitational and our U10 took 3rd place against teams from around the country.
A season marred by Covid-19 restrictions. Our goal of 40-50 players fell short as we barely reached 36 again, and that was with several new players. Only 30 finished the year and HS ages suffered the biggest setback.
Fall was reduced to Touch Rugby only and Spring started late. Cities wouldn't book facilities, resulting in much more travel for practices and games. This caused some kids to quit and resulted in limited new growth. Most expenses stayed the same though a few went up, but revenue fell way short of expenses by about $1,200 - a personal loss for the club president.
We finished 3rd at U10 despite two prior U10 championships. A huge positive, however, was winning the AZ U12 Championship for the first time. They were also the only team to prevent Tempe from winning every AZ division that year.
We also had a competitive U14 team that finished 3rd. In the last few regular season games and semifinal they gave the 1st and 2nd place teams a scare, twice, going down to the wire each time. We barely missed going to the final. Many of these boys played on another new travel team called AZ Pumas, that finished 3rd in a national tournament in Cleveland, gaining media attention.
After the dark days of the Covid year, Eclipse miraculously bounced back strong. Many clubs were still recovering. Most had drops or plateaus in overall numbers, though a few recovered well at certain ages. However, we seemed to rebound at all ages and continued to grow into new, older teams.
Our budget also nearly doubled, yet we broke even thanks to more registrations, new sponsors, fundraisers and donations. We had a 73% increase in overall players compared to the end of the Covid season. Player growth was the bulk of our financial improvement, but sponsorships from AZ Sound & Comm, ALCO Insurance, Impact Physical Therapy and Lost in Adventure Travel gave us a legitimacy and foundation we've never had before.
We even had a rebirth in our younger numbers with several new U8 players. We also recaptured the AZ U10 Tackle Championship, repeated as AZ U12 Champs again, and was U14 Boys Runner-up for the first time. We started our first full U16 Boys team who were very competitive and finished 3rd, and we provided five girls (nearly half) of the U16 AZ Big Dawgs combo team.