Boxing Day Rugby Tradition Turns 25
Writer / Stephanie Duncan
While most people are relaxing the day after Christmas, Broad Ripple Park welcomes a small crowd of rugby players and fans who gather in honor of Boxing Day.
Boxing Day, which is celebrated each year on December 26, is a popular holiday in Europe and Canada. It has also been celebrated in Broad Ripple for the past 25 years, and it is a tradition that has grown more popular each year. Two rugby matches are played on Boxing Day in Broad Ripple Park, and anyone who wants to play is welcome. The day begins with a women’s match and then a men’s match. The group then moves to Broad Ripple Tavern where participants catch up with old friends over food and drinks. Simon Bidmead is the man behind the tradition.
Rugby on Boxing Day is a tradition in Europe, and Bidmead decided to bring it with him when he moved from England to Indianapolis.
“In Europe you’d either play a local club or charity match. It’s a really good way to blow some steam off after the Christmas holidays” Bidmead explained.
Bidmead loves rugby and is thrilled so many have participated in the matches over the years. You can find him on Boxing Day walking up and down the sidelines, cheering and coaching.
“It’s the comradery and free spirit,” he explained. “Everyone gets to run and pass the ball. There is a position for every size and level of athlete.”
Bidmead‘s tradition began with a small group of men at Bishop Chatard; it soon grew quite large, eventually leading to a co-ed game with up to 25 people per side. Everyone got a chance to play.
The location has changed, but it has always been close to Bidmead’s home in Broad Ripple. The party started in his basement, but as more and more began to attend, the location moved to Broad Ripple Park and the Broad Ripple Tavern.
“We probably had close to 100 people this year,” said fellow rugger Dan Fitterling, who credits the growth of Boxing Day in Indianapolis to high school and college rugby becoming more prominent in Indiana.
“There’s a bigger base of people,” he said. “It’s a chance for kids to play with or against their old coaches. It’s the same day every year – never changes. You know when it’s happening.”
This year was the second where there was an organized women’s game. Played before the men’s game, more women than ever are showing up to play. Kelly Shank, who played rugby for Brownsburg in high school, then at Indiana University, said she enjoys the addition to the yearly event.
“It’s honestly my favorite day of the year,” she said. “More women are interested in playing now. It’s less intimidating, especially if it’s your first time coming out.”
Fellow IU rugger, Caitlin Keusch, loves seeing old teammates each year.
“This is the only time I get to see old friends,” she said. “It’s like a rugby homecoming.”
“It’s mega inclusive,” Shank added. “It really is a great community of people.”
“My favorite part about Boxing Day is Simon. He loves that day.” Fitterling said. “He is such a nice man and get such joy from it.”
So next year, if you’re looking for a new tradition be sure to check out Broad Ripple Park the day after Christmas. The matches begin at approximately 12:30 p.m. at Broad Ripple Park, in the field by the tennis courts.