Despite challenges brought on by the pandemic, the Axemen Rugby Club appears to be doing well, and, in some cases, thriving with a new no-barrier policy.
"The thought behind it was really, 'Hey, everyone's feeling financial pressure at the moment,'" said Blake Mahovic, the club's director of rugby.
With the help of sponsors, the Axemen have removed the normal annual club fee, which is about $200 for adults and roughly $100 for youth.
The only thing people need to pay for is a nominal insurance fee of $25 for the season, and that can be refunded within a few sessions if people decide the sport isn't for them, he said.
Historically, the club has waived fees for families facing financial hardship, but this takes it to a new level.
Mahovic, said that enrollment for the men's division has stayed roughly the same with about 40 people registered.
Youth registrations have dropped off to roughly 80 players — which is about 80% of what it was last year.
However, there's been a significant growth in one division. About 20 women have signed up, a three to fourfold increase, said Mahovic.
COVID-19 has posed problems for the club, but activities are still carrying on, albeit differently, he said.
Competitions have been stopped and there is no contact allowed at the moment, which means most of the meetups focus on conditioning and non-contact skills, such as passing and kicking.
No wrestling is permitted, but quick reaches into a person's bubble are allowed, so something like flag rugby is still doable.
Furthermore, the no-contact practices have provided an opportunity for older players to get back in the game, Mahovic said.
"It's been such a great time for people to come out and train who maybe have played rugby before but feel like they're too old and they don't want to get hurt," he said.
Contact tracing is in effect as well, Mahovic said.
Down the line, if infection rates stabilize near the new year, there may be a return to competition.
This could involve smaller groups playing on the field, and new regulations that would only allow waist-down as opposed to shoulder-down tackling.
Mahovic is encouraging anyone interested to try out the sport.
More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/AxemenRugbyClub/