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The Main Event: A Good Sport




By Selena Fragassi

 

The name Mark Bingham might always be associated with tragedy, but the Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Cup will always be a celebration and remembrance of what made him happy. The sporting event is the world’s largest amateur international rugby tournament, named for a former player on the San Francisco Fog who passed away before his time in 2001. Bingham notably was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, which was overtaken by terrorists during the September 11 attacks; he’s one of the heroes credited with fearlessly trying to regain control of the plane.

As the 15th anniversary of that fateful day loomed this year, 2016 Bingham Cup Chairman Jon Glassmeyer says, “One of the things I wanted to focus on was Mark. That’s the reason why we are here.” During the opening ceremonies, the massive crowd observed a moment of silence and heard remarks from Bingham’s mother Alice Hoagland. As well, on several nights during the event (held May 22-29), there were screenings of “With You,” the 2012 documentary made about the public relations executive and aspiring sports star who was largely credited with breaking stereotypes for gay athletes—the Bingham Cup draws predominately from the LGBTQ community.

It was held at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the few times it’s been hosted in the States since its inception in 2002. “I really do think Vanderbilt is a large part of why we got the bid,” says Glassmeyer who is well connected in the local community and former president of the Nashville rugby chapter, the Grizzlies. Glassmeyer also goes a ways back with Linda Welch, director of conferences at Vanderbilt, who he says, “Laid it all out for us.”

Welch and her team, including Program Coordinator Brandis Blodgett, worked with Glassmeyer for two years figuring out all the logistics for attendee accommodations, opening ceremonies, practice facilities, and meals held at the campus (though the actual tournament games were held at the nearby Ted Rhodes Sports Complex, part of the Metro Nashville Parks system). In total, there were 2,500 attendees representing 15 countries, including 1,100 players.

“Part of the RFP that was important for the Cup committee was showing how inclusive Vanderbilt could be,” says Welch. “We explained how important diversity is for us, our students and faculty, and all our visitors.”

Because the Bingham Cup is an international affair, the sporting event was also considered a vacation for many of the visitors coming from abroad. “Many participants came early,” says Welch, “and there were a lot of activities planned throughout the city.” That included trips to Dollywood, the Jack Daniels distillery and other pub crawls, all in near proximity to the centrally located campus. “The Mayor’s office got involved, so did the Chamber of Commerce because it brought a lot of revenue to Nashville,” furthers Welch. “Everyone wants to be a part of big groups like this.”

Because of the large influx of guests, Blodgett says, “We wanted to make sure expectations were met early on, so we set up communications from the beginning.” That included creating an online registration page to purchase meal plans ahead of time—and ensuring catering was set to create literally thousands of boxed lunches every day, many of them with specialized items since many of the athletes were on restrictive diets.

“Jon had informed us that many of the players hadn’t seen each other in a while so socializing would be important. Offering the chance to secure meal tickets ahead of time ensured they could be in the same place at the same time.”

The team provided the same opportunity for overnight accommodation requests, which became quite the puzzle and took weeks to figure out, says Blodgett. “We had a big old whiteboard and wrote out the number of people on every team and then went through our floor plans of every dorm we were using. It was a trial by error, and we had to redo it several times. But since our residence halls have single and double rooms and suites all in one building, we could get creative and keep teams together for the most part.” The general setup of the campus also created socializing opportunities. “One thing I heard a lot of was people liked that they could easily meet friends in the lobby area or dining hall, because all of it was in close proximity.”

Blodgett adds that she also prepared the guests ahead of time by sending photos of their rooms and detailed checklists of the items they needed to bring, down to the hangers to hang up their uniforms. But one thing they did not anticipate—the request for extra blankets. “Some of them came from extreme climates, so even though it was hot in Nashville in May, they were cold,” she says. “Thankfully we had extra supplies on hand.”

“We really could not have pulled off this event without them,” says Glassmeyer, commending all the extra attention to detail. “The main thing was the people. From Brandis and Linda and the conferencing staff to food services and housekeeping they were 100% committed to us, and if there were any problems they jumped on it.” He points to one example on opening night. “Everything was set up on the lawn and this horrible storm started rolling in with lightning. Vanderbilt banded together to move everything into the student center, only running 20 minutes behind. It was unbelievable. And made this year certainly very memorable.”

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