Renegades Routed

Stead Park no longer rugby-ready

by Yusef Najafi
Published on September 17, 2009, 12:00am | Comments

The field at Stead Park, where the Washington Renegades Rugby Football Club has played for nearly a decade, is almost back to normal -- but not quite yet.

The all-purpose, all-grass field, bordered by 17th and P Streets NW in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, looked different to Renegades, many of whom are gay, who showed up there on Tuesday, Sept. 1, after weeks of drills on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for the first official practice of the season. The all-grass field had been turned into a kickball field.

Ned Kieloch, president of the Renegades, says a diamond was cut into the grass, a sort of "baseball dirt" had been added, and rubber base plates had been embedded into the ground.

''The dirt looks to be a combination of [earth], sand and small rocks,'' Kieloch says. ''Which if you're sliding into that, fully dressed in a baseball uniform, or if you're a football player and you get tackled in it, it's no big deal, because you're covered.

''We just wear short-sleeved shirts and shorts. That obviously was a concern, as well as having rubber plates, which you can trip over.''

That night, the team, which Kieloch says has paid about $4,000 for usage of the field through November, stuck to drills. And a call to the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation the following day proved effective.

''They called right back and they said they'll pull the bases off," Kieloch says, confirming that much has been done. "Our understanding is we are going to be back to where we were before,''.

Jim Barrett, a player on the team who is gay, says the altered field -- with dirt still in many areas that were once grassy -- could be detrimental to the team's performance this season.

''It will reduce how much we can scrimmage or do an actual game, because we can't use the entire field,'' Barrett says. ''It's disappointing.

''Last spring we were unbeaten in our spring recreational season, and now that we're ready for our fall season and have a very promising shot at the Division III title, this is kind of an unexpected and unpleasant surprise.''

Barrett says the team has been exploring other sites, such as the field at Cardozo Senior High School near 13th Street and Florida Avenue NW.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 15, with the dirt still in place, Kieloch says he's willing to wait and give the Department of Parks and Recreation a chance to fix things completely. A department spokesperson is investigating the situation, but could not offer an immediate comment.

Kieloch says, ''This is a work in progress. I didn't get a time frame, but I want to give them an opportunity to do what needs to be done. I'm not going to stomp my feet and say I'm going to go elsewhere. Stead has been our home in many ways, for many years.''

For more information about the Washington Renegades, visit www.dcrugby.com.