The old baseball fields at Lake Sammamish State Park aren’t much to look at, on most days.
But Rick Ravsten remembers when the fields were home to state championships and some of the area’s most earnest competition as the home to the Liberty rugby program, the first of its kind on the Eastside.
“It was really challenging to find field space,” Ravsten said. “We stepped into Lake Sammamish by default.”
Coach Josh Young and the Eastside Lions, which recently signed a three-year agreement to make the park their new home and bring rugby back to the park it first called home in the region, hope the area between Northwest Sammamish Road and the south end of the lake can again bring together a community and gives a glimpse into a park’s uncertain future through its past.
After operating as nomads and traveling around between Marymoor Park and local high school football fields, program director Josh Young said the Lions are thrilled with a more permanent setting they will help maintain. The group is using the field for practice this season, while it helps make improvements, and will hopes to host games there next year.
“Rugby is all about community,” Young said. “We want to create a place families can come.”
After beginning with only a dozen youngsters in 2007, the Lions now field teams at six levels including its mini’s program, and also operate an adult men’s team and a budding women’s program. Their growth has mirrored the increased popularity of the sport and made a more expansive locale a necessity, Young said. It also allows them to maintain the sense of community that comes with a field capable of supporting a day full of games.
“It’s already a beautiful park,” Young said. “They want it maintained well and that is what we plan to do.”
Sports at Lake Sammamish State Park are nothing new and while Ranger Rich Benson said as a general principle, the state has moved away from contracting with sports clubs for use of its spaces, it could be a way to increase visibility and sell more of the Discovery Passes that are on pace for a drastic shortfall from projected revenues.
A local Little League helped put in the baseball fields now used by the Lions decades ago and the Issaquah Soccer Club calls another set of fields adjacent to NW Sammamish Rd. home. Benson said lacrosse and even cricket, another sport making its way to the Eastside via expats, have also shown interest in one form or another.
“We’re different from most state parks,” Benson said, noting its relatively urban location. “We have much more of a demand for that kind of thing.”
The park’s location is also prime for the Lions, which draw players from the Snoqualmie Valley to Bothell and Mercer Island to Sammamish.
“There are 6,000 high school students in that corridor with Eastside Catholic, Eastlake and Skyline,” Young said. “It’s the perfect spot.”
Even more, it gives the program and park a connection to it’s sporting past. For Ravsten, who recently retired from coaching after nearly 30 years of bringing the game to the area, it is also a bridge for the current rugby community.
“Josh has done a tremendous job,” Ravsten said. “It kind of ties in the old and the new.”
The Eastside Lions work out during a practice at the Lake Sammamish State Park baseball fields. COURTESY PHOTO, EASTSIDE LIONS