2020. I mean, where do you even start? 2020 was supposed to be the year in which the world turned over a new leaf, the beginning of a new decade of hopeful promise. But nooooooooooooooo. The 2020 gods really wanted to throw the book at us instead (and no I’m not talking about Mike Malone’s We are Black, We are White).
What we thought would happen …
At the beginning of February, our women’s team began practice in earnest following the 20th Anniversary tour in New Orleans. Riding the waves of elation at #1 finish in the EGU, we were hungry for a 2020 repeat under the guidance of Coach Cobus Gomes. The men, battered from another difficult year, solidified our bonds, dug deep, and excitedly readied ourselves to be coached by the incomparable Coach Koma Gandy Fischbein.
COVID lingered in our minds and, seemingly, across oceans.
But what had happened was …
Infections in the NYC area rose rapidly and we made the hard, but necessary decision to shut down rugby operations to protect our teammates, friends, and family. I remember sitting at the pub with Aardvark literally minutes before shutdown, enjoying one last beer with a looming fog of uncertainty around the future of NYC and the Lions. Masks were not yet required.
Barely three months later, NYC saw some of the largest civil rights protests in American history. Simmering tensions and frustrations exploded onto the world stage with New York at its center. Austin, Tex, Fernando, and I watched the gathering crowds at the Barclays Center from a roof across the street. The energy for change and progress was palpable. I had already been infected with and recovered from COVID, as had our Men’s Match Secretary, Eugene. He later set out into the streets to participate in protests, as did many other Lions.
Our ability to play rugby in the face of so much adversity was a challenge of routinely shifting goal posts, exhaustion, fatigue, and fluctuating guidelines. Without a clear strategy to safely return to play, our plan has been to focus on controlling what we can control. Where should we focus our efforts? What could we do to stay in touch? To stay relevant? To remain rugby ready? With all normal rugby operations halted, where should we begin? What are the Lions if play is removed from the equation?
At the beginning of lockdown, I was reminded of an interview we had conducted with multiple Lions in 2019, just ahead of the 30th Anniversary. One answer to a seemingly innocuous question had a profound impact on me. We had asked, “In one word, how would you describe the Lions?” Over 95% of respondents said, “Family.” The answer was consistent, time after time, interview after interview. I still get tingles thinking about that warm, sunny day on Field 74, just under the uprights. It became clear to me that “Family” should be my obvious focus for 2020. Ever since moving to NYC, the Lions have been my family and I know that this has been an experience shared by many Lions through the decades. When things get tough, we should still be able to confidently say, “At least I’ve got my family.”
So to start, multiple officers and directors committed to checking in with each of you throughout the year, individually if possible. Fortunately, many of us made it through this year relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, we also found that, despite lockdown, some of our teammates and family members were infected. Some were hospitalized. Tragically, some of our Lions have lost loved ones due to Coronavirus and other natural causes throughout the year. To those of you who have had someone pass away this year, please know that the entire Lions family, thousands strong, are here for you. We are but a phone call, text, or email away. You are never alone.
Knowing we could not play rugby, our officers and directors shifted focus to our initiatives that we had not had the time, energy, or personnel to commit to fully in years past. In the effort to reach out to you all, we finished building a working membership database of Lions past and present, including information about where you attended college and your current employer. Recognizing the immediate need for employment assistance due to COVID related restructuring and layoffs, we quickly tapped into that wealth of information to assist our colleagues, and the rugby community at large, through a series of Virtual Career Fairs. To date, we have networked with nearly one hundred individuals over the course of four events since August. By design, they have also been an excellent opportunity for recruitment, building relationships with high school and college students in the northeast.
We also recognized that there is a dormant force of local rugby talent within our own neighborhoods, so we invested time in local rugby youth programming. With the addition of Kimani Davis to the Board of Directors, we saw the creation of our partnership with School in the Square in Washington Heights. School in the Square provides middle school education, community services, and youth rugby programming to children hailing from Manhattan and the Bronx. We hope that this partnership will become the bedrock of a dedicated Lions youth program and pipeline for athletes, coaches, and community service opportunities for years to come.
To cement this partnership at a time when we could not volunteer in person, we created the 40for40 Fitness Fundraiser to benefit the Lions and School in the Square. We are confident that any funds raised will be reinvested into the communities that we represent. Our 40for40 event is ongoing.
You might have also noticed an uptick in merchandise sales coming across your social channels because we are streamlining seasonal apparel drops for added income. Stay tuned in the next month or so for some excellent new designs.
Additionally, on the heels of the 30th Anniversary, we have also continued to build on the Lions’ Fund initiative to ensure financial sustainability for many years to come. Our dream to no longer be reliant on single events seems particularly important in a time of financial volatility related to COVID. We plan to expand upon this donor base, already seeing more individual contributions this year than in 2019.
So it wasn’t all bad?
No. Not at all. The Lions organization has spent considerable time staying positive and productive. And I know that many of us felt like we were a part of something much bigger than ourselves this year, even despite all of the time spent in isolation. We’ve also been blessed by a great deal of fantastic news throughout the year. We have had COVID babies, pregnancies, weddings, engagements, moves, and career changes. The Women’s 20th Anniversary Zoom call was a hoot and absolute pleasure to attend.
The year has been a whirlwind, but we have managed so far, and we will continue to do so.
What does the future hold? When can we play again?
The future remains uncertain but the vaccine does offer a glimmer of hope. We are trying to hone in on a 2021 Summer 7s start date in terms of financing, recruitment, and organization. But again, it is all tentative at the moment, and our priority remains to protect our staff, players, and community. I’m sure many of you are itching to get back on the pitch, or at the very least, live vicariously through those that are still playing! My best advice is to stay healthy, stay fit, and stay in touch.
We will also continue our fundraising efforts in tandem with our community initiatives. Director Kim Dacres has incredible plans to assist in bringing the Lions into the 21st century organizationally and to properly prepare us for our volunteer efforts in youth programming.
Let me tell you what now. We have some hard hitting months ahead of us, and it might even get medieval, but I’ve never been more pleased with our accomplishments, our vision for the future, and the personnel we have enlisted to help us get there.
That does not mean we would not benefit from your help, expertise, or financial contributions. We still have a long way to go to keep us on track to make it over the gain line every day, especially when the prospect of returning to play in 2021 remains incredibly precarious. We continue to seek trained personnel in web development, graphic design, recruitment, sponsorship, writing, editing, and finance. Reach out to me if you see yourself contributing in some way. (See below the signature line for financial gift information.)
I look forward to 2021 and I can’t wait for you all to see all the hard work come to fruition once we step back onto the pitch. 2020 was playing checkers while we were playing chess.
2021 Thank Yous
First and foremost, I would like to thank all of those who have made individual contributions to the Lions’ Fund, paid social dues, or donated to the 40for40 campaign. Whether you gave $25 dollars or $1,000, your financial gifts have kept the Lions alive and kicking for another year. We truly appreciate all of you more than you know.
Next up, I am personally grateful to the following people for keeping my head above water in 2021:
Eugene, Colby, and James: for helping organize the Virtual Career Fairs and providing me with tournament info.
Tubs: for helping manage the merch drops and looking good while doing it.
Michelle and Marian: for joining us during such a tumultuous year and throwing yourself at any task you could find. The 20th Zoom was perfect. Thank you.
Seuss: for keeping our money safe and not burning it for warmth.
Genghis: for managing comms and making sure our website, at the very least, works.
Katie: for some nice holiday designs … that we will need to use next year because you know why.
Meg: for still contributing. True superstar status.
Kimo (and Kat): for being a solid dude with a great partner-wife, making great foods, and introducing us to School in the Square.
Kimbo: for always bringing us fresh ideas and keeping us on track to do things the right way.
Greally: for keeping us up to speed on COVID and facilitating the hiring of coaches Koma and Cobus. Waldo is thinking of you.
Christian: for running our content strategy, social channels, and the litany of behind the scenes stuff that you do despite being 3,000 miles away.
Renee, Andy, Quin, and Bret: for offering advice to a young padawan.
Alli: train beers.
Tex, Austin, Disco, and JJ: great rides around the city, NYC beaches, music, empanadas, and chopped cheese
Jack: tacos and margs
The Lions D&D crew
And to Nellie, for tolerating me, being the superwoman that you are, and letting me off on all the trouble that I always manage to get myself into.
We offer several ways to support with a tax deductible gift through the Lions’ Fund program, should you be in a position to do so:
– Monthly Subscriptions, starting at $25
– One Time Gift of any amount
– Multi-Year Pledge of any amount
– Matching Program with your company
Lion’s treasurer Ryan Tumelty (Seuss) has made it easy to set up a subscription or make a gift today via PayPal (PayPal fees may apply, indicate “I’m sending money to family or friends” option), Chase QuickPay, and Venmo (one time gifts only). Custom monthly donation options of any amount are available on request.
Chase QuickPay to email@example.com
A check made out to “Village Lions Rugby Football Club”
P.O. Box 553, New York, NY 10159
Corporate matching https://doublethedonation.com/villagelions