The dream behind connecting the diverse Glendale community into rugby was proving to be a success by 2009. More and more fans were attending matches within the stadium and interest in bringing high-level rugby events to the one-of-a-kind complex was beginning to grow.
With the stadium, event center and community sport center now complete, the next phase of the project was ready for implementation. General contractor Turner Construction was in the process of demolishing several deteriorated apartment buildings and clearing space for the practice pitch. The turf practice field would become part of Infinity Park complex, adding an eight-acre park including the pitch, a pavilion, picnic areas, walking paths, public lawns and a field house.
Renovation was also beginning in the fire house building to convert office space into the High Altitude Training Center (HATC), a recovery area and training room for the Raptors and visiting teams. Once completed, athletes would have state-of-the-art training and recovery facilities to match their impressive municipally-owned complex.
“Our focus was to keep the design and build process highly collaborative between the city, the general contractor (Turner Construction) and the design team (Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative and Design Studios West),” Deputy City Manager and Director of Finance for the City of Glendale Linda Cassaday said. “Taking this approach allowed us to streamline the design and build process, eliminate the need for multiple design submissions, and ultimately apply funds to the construction of the complex more efficiently.”
The Boy Scouts of America had the honor of hosing the first event at IPEC upon its completion just a few months later in November. Like its sister the Sports Center, IPEC boasts state-of-the-art equipment and provides the community with indoor and outdoor spaces for meetings, weddings and other special events.
The turf field opened for practices and matches late spring of 2009 and the surrounding park area was completed in June 2010. A close follower to the new park, the HATC and recovery areas were open for use in March 2011. Upon the opening of the HATC and recovery area, Mike Dunafon and his team could congratulate everyone involved on a job well done – the Infinity Park complex was now complete.
National, International Interest
With the completion of the Infinity Park complex and the growing success of the Raptors RFC, Glendale garnered national and international attention for its state-of-the-art training and playing facilities. The city played host to the Churchill Cup, and international tournament, in 2009 and 2010, the National Collegiate All Star Championships in 2009 and 2010, the CanAms in 2009, several USA Eagles test matches and USA National Club Championships.
Infinity Park is preparing to host its third National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) Championship finals. It will also host the Third Annual Serevi RugbyTown 7s tournament in conjunction with the Third Annual Armed Forces tournament in 2014.
Having so many national and international rugby events under its belt easily allowed Glendale to be rebranded as RugbyTown USA in 2010. The wide scope of interest also served to draw attention to the extraordinary effort needed to redevelop the area into a green space, and maintain the stadium pitch under harsh environmental conditions.
The oft unsung heroes in that effort are the members Infinity Park’s turf management crew. The crew work tirelessly to rejuvenate the pitch after each match – not to mention during the brutal Colorado seasons. Their dedication and expertise has earned them the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) National Winner for Field of the Year in the Sporting Grounds category in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Additionally, they earned Field of the Year, Overall from the Colorado Sports Turf Managers Association.
Throughout the finishing phases of construction and opening of the HATC, the Raptors players continue to keep their sights set on winning a national championship. Both men’s and women’s sides had earned reputations for being highly competitive and skilled on the pitch – they had only needed to prove that they were the best, not just one of the best.
The DI men’s team was able to reach that goal in the spring of 2011, with a championship win over Olympic Club in the final. They continued their championship momentum into 2012, where they were the favorites to win over powerhouse rivals Belmont Shore in the final. Unfortunately for Glendale, Belmont proved to have the edge on the day, and the Raptors would finish the year in second place.
A championship title continued to elude the women’s team. Each year, Glendale would be a fixture in the women’s playoffs, but each year the team would fall just short of the final four.
2011 found the women in the DI finals marked up against Chicago North Shore, a team they had defeated earlier in the season. In spite of a heartbreaking loss, the ladies were still allowed to challenge the bottom-seeded WPL team for a chance to advance into the higher-level league. The Raptors faced off against WPL’s eighth-seeded Minnesota Valkyries on a rainy Saturday in Austin, Texas. Which the Valks started off strong – eager to remain in the WPL – the Raptors settled into their pattern of play and dominated over the remaining 80 minutes of play. At the final whistle the Raptors knocked Minnesota out of the WPL with an irrefutable 53-5 victory.
While elevation into the top women’s league in the country was a huge step forward for the Glendale women, it was not the national championship they were seeking. The ladies highest ranking in the WPL was a second place finish in 2012. They continue to add top-talent names to their roster each season and will be back in the hunt in 2014 for the championship.
For 2014 the men have changed gears. They will be dropping their DI program to participate in the newly formed Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP). The newly formed league will provide a platform to elite-level play among the top teams in the western United States. The Raptors will play their inaugural home PRP match on Saturday, March 1 2014 in the Infinity Park Stadium. Glendale will also retain their Division II men’s team and all youth programs.
The successful rebuild and rebranding of the City of Glendale into a rugby-oriented mecca has been the result of countless hours of collaboration between a city government, business and the community.
“Success of our efforts has been dependent on never losing sight of our desire to inject new life and opportunity within the City of Glendale through rebranding,” Mayor Dunafon said. “Rugby has been the vehicle to accomplish that goal and we look forward to the continued evolution of the Raptors organization and the surrounding community.”
The creation of the complex has done much more than bring rugby into the spotlight. It provides the community with a safe, family-friendly location to gather with friends, whether it be for the purpose of cheering on their favorite rugby team, personal fitness, a wedding or birthday, or just a quiet picnic in the park.
We’ll see you in RugbyTown USA!
With the completion of the stadium at Infinity Park under their belts, Mike Dunafon and newly formed Raptors organization had taken a big step toward incorporating rugby into the community.
The year was 1978 and fortuitous happenstance – some may even call it Fate – found Mike Dunafon on the Caribbean island paradise of Tortola being introduced to rugby.