The Nashville Grizzlies are putting Nashville on the rugby map. The socially and ethnically diverse team will be hosting its first tournament this year on April 20. It sent invitations to other teams part of its amateur rugby league, IGRAB or the International Gay Rugby Association and Board. Teams from cities like Atlanta, Kansas City and Seattle – eight in all – will be competing in the one-day event.

Team president Todd Shelton said hosting the team’s first tournament is a huge step for them.

“Hosting a tournament is a big deal for us because we have never hosted a tournament before, so we’re excited about that,” he said.

Shelton said, unlike other rugby tournaments this year which tend to invite teams by region, the inaugural Music City Cup will be hosting teams from across the country.

Despite the pressure, Shelton sounded calm and confident on a recent phone conversation with O&AN – a confidence he credits to working with a dedicated group of organizers.

“We got a great chairman for the tournament this year, Scott Ridgway – he’s a master at planning,” Shelton said. “We [have] a great field coordinator and, so far, have a great list of volunteers.”

Rugby, probably not what you think

Shelton said describing rugby can be very difficult. To say it’s a mix of soccer and football is true on some levels but also very misleading – and probably irritating to fans.

That is why all attendees will receive a program with background information, though there's always something to watch on the field, he said.

“It’s more of an endurance sport, because in football, you stop after every play,” Shelton said. “In rugby, you don’t stop. The clock doesn't stop until the half, and then it doesn't stop again until the end of the match. The play goes on continuously, so there’s tackle after tackle after tackle, without a break.”

Having never played rugby until a few years ago, he said it surprised him how much he enjoyed it.

“I think the camaraderie is the number one reason I've stayed around,” he said. “I just have really enjoyed the brotherhood with all the guys, and I actually learned I liked a contact sport.”

Tournament day

The Music City Cup will take place at the Ben West Sportsplex in Nashville, where the team usually practices. Three matches will be going on at the same time with trophies going to tournament winners.

Matches will take place only on Saturday but pre-tournament and post-tournament parties are scheduled for Friday and Sunday.

Shelton said he hopes people will enjoy a great day of matches and, maybe, even consider joining the team as a player or supporter. He points out that the Grizzlies are open to gay and straight members, and all that is required is a willingness to learn a new sport and have a good time.

Given that the tournament is important not only to the Grizzlies but also all the visiting teams – they are having to raise funds to travel to Nashville – Shelton said success for him will come from hosting a fun, safe event.

“That the teams are happy that they came to play,” he said.

Music City Cup is free to attend. For more information, visit

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