Steamboat’s Cowpie Classic a tradition for regional rugby
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Folklore has it that 44 years ago, the Steamboat Fighting Bull Trout men’s rugby club was going to host its first tournament at the rodeo grounds.
But the cows from the rodeo got loose, so before the tournament, players had to pick up the cowpies that were left behind.
And ever since, the Steamboat rugby club has called the annual rugby tournament the Cowpie Classic.
Each year, the trophy is different, and even handcrafted by a member of the team. One year it was a bronze cowpie, another was a cowpie framed in glass. But the tournament is now held at the ski town fields, where the uprights are fastened out of pine trees.
“It’s part of the tradition, we go and cut down pine trees to use as goal posts,” captain Jason Troyer said. “Which is fun, the irregularities make it more challenging.”
Troyer, 30, has been playing rugby in Steamboat for seven years, but started when he was 16 in the Aspen Valley.
“When I was growing up, the Aspen Gentlemen were kind of the talk of the state, winning national tournaments,” Troyer said. “Some of those guys wanted to help younger kids get involved, so I was a part of the inaugural season for the Junior Gentlemen at 16.”
The Aspen Gentlemen will be one of many regional contenders at the Cowpie Classic, and have been one of the Bull Trout’s toughest competitors. The Bull Trout recently defeated Aspen in its season opener on Sunday, 38-27, after falling to the Gentlemen last year 66-19.
The list of contenders continues with regional teams from Wyoming, Vail, Breckenridge and even further out of town. Then, a traditional 35-and-older group called the Old Boys will play at 12:40 p.m. featuring members of Steamboat’s earliest teams against those from Boulder.
“Some of these players haven’t played in 5 to 10 years,” Troyer said. “It gets those guys who helped create the club to meet the new guys.”
One of those new guys is player and head coach, Michael Hickey.
Hickey, 33, spent three years as assistant coach in Manhattan, New York, but has traveled down to play in Cowpie for the past two years to play with the Bull Trout. Joining Hickey as one of the new additions is Lamoni Tongo Tongo, a former member of the Austin Huns, the 2017 USA Rugby national champions.
Together, the two have worked on implementing a new offense to help bring the Cowpie title back home for the first time since 2012.
“We’ve introduced a much more dynamic attacking pattern, spend a lot more time putting points on board than defense,” Hickey said. “We don’t have the biggest bodies, so we need to exploit our advantages which is speed and space.”
Every year, the Bull Trout also welcome subplayers from all over who just want to compete in the storied tournament. That’s how Hickey got started before moving to Steamboat permanently.
“They help pick us up where we’re falling short,” Troyer said. “Couple of rookies get tired and need rejuvenation, it’s a very helpful tool.”
The Steamboat Bull Trout will start play at 8:40 a.m., along with the girls’ team, the Steamboat Heifers. Each team will play at least three games before the remaining advance to finals.
It’s an all-day affair that concludes with a toga party hosted by Sunpies Bistro for all those new and old.
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