Chicago Lions, Chicago Hope open Nollman Field for rugby on Polk St.
December 6, 2019

Chicago Lions Rugby will play at Nollman Field at 2637 W. Polk St.

By Amy Rothblatt

The Chicago Lions Charitable Association (CLCA) and its Chicago Lions Rugby Club, and Chicago Hope Academy, celebrated the opening of a new rugby field at 2637 W. Polk St. during a day-long Reveal the Field event on Sept. 21. The celebration included rugby games played by clubs, neighborhood residents who had started their own teams, and the Chicago Lions women’s team.

The field is part of the future Lions for Hope Sports Complex.

Chicago Hope and the Lions named the facility the J. Tyke Nollman Field after a celebrated former rugby player for the Lions who served as the club’s president club for six years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Nollman was a philanthropist and played a major role in creating a national presence for rugby in the United States through business sponsorships and marketing. He dreamed of increasing awareness of rugby among inner-city youth of Chicago, and he wanted to build a facility for rugby and other sports on the West Side. Nollman won induction to the USA Rugby Hall of Fame after his passing in 2015.

Established in 1964, the Chicago Lions Rugby Club is the largest and one of the most active and influential clubs in the Midwest. It sponsors the Chicago Lions Rugby men’s and women’s teams, whose name pays tribute to the lions in front of the Art Institute of Chicago. Players range in age from grade-schoolers to adults.

Chicago Hope Academy, a private Christian college prep high school that focuses on inner city youth, is located at 2189 W. Bowler St. in the Tri-Taylor community. Its boys’ rugby team will play at Nollman Field.

New field has special turf

The new field has a special shock-absorbing artificial turf, bleachers, a scoreboard, and bathrooms.

Marcus Devers, assistant athletic director at Chicago Hope Academy, said, “The students are really excited to have this new field, and it has increased an interest in rugby.” Chicago Hope has a boys’ rugby team, “but now there is more interest by the girls, and a girls’ rugby team is being considered to start next year,” Devers said.

The rugby team at Chicago Hope is called the Chicago Rugby Lions and is affiliated with the Chicago Lions, some of whose alumni coach the Chicago Hope students at their practices and games.

Previously, the Chicago Hope team had practiced and played games on the school’s track, which has a grass field in the center.

Future expansion

The Lions and Chicago Hope held a capital campaign to raise money to purchase the land, which they co-own. The Lions hope to expand facilities into the Lions for Hope Sports Complex.

“The site of the future complex was undeveloped, industrial land when it was purchased in 2015,” said Chris McClellan, executive director of the CLCA. “It is eight acres that goes from Polk to Taylor Streets, and Washtenaw Ave. east to the train tracks northwest of Chicago Hope Academy.”

The complex will have two fields—Nollman Field and one with “a dome to be used year-round, and a multi-use building in between,” McClellan said.

While the new Nollman Field will not be open to the public, except during contracted rugby games, “the multi-use building is intended to be used for mentoring youth in the area, to house activities and programs, and be a resource with space to use for community organizations in the area,” McClellan said. “We want this to be open to the community for its use.”

“We are thrilled to have completed this phase of the Lions for Hope Sports Complex capital campaign and look forward to the next steps,” said Jeff Simon, Chicago Lions Charitable Association president.

J. Tyke Nollman, for whom officials named the new field.

$4 million project

“The total amount of money spent so far on this project, $4 million, the result of the past four years of fundraising, includes the acquisition of the land and work that was done underground on a storm water remediation system, work that you can’t necessarily see,” McClellan added.

“If $5 million gets dropped in our laps, then the domed field would be the next project on the agenda, but so far the Nollman Field is the only one built yet,” McClellan said. “Raising funds for the field is essentially the Lions’ responsibility through corporate sponsorships and donations. Athletico is our biggest sponsor.”

Devers said the Chicago Hope “rugby team is not currently engaged in game activity at the moment, but practice begins in February and the games will begin in March,” and that the team will also practice and play at the indoor field when built.

The school also uses the nearby Quest Multisport complex at 2541 W. Harrison St., which has basketball and volleyball courts.

Rugby club program

Chris Malette, director of community relations and engagement and athletic director at Chicago Hope Academy, said, “We have always had folks interested in different sports, and you never know” what sport will be popular “until you offer it. The rugby program competes with other high schools statewide and is a club program, so there are kids from Chicago Hope who also play with and against kids from other Chicago high schools.”

Susan Tyson, a board member and communications director of the Tri-Taylor Community Association, said, “the TTCA is excited to have the addition of this facility in the community, providing the opportunity to get kids involved with athletics. From a board standpoint, any facility development like this that focuses on the kids in an activity, and getting them into sports, is something that we strongly support.”

For more information about Chicago Hope Academy, call (312) 491-1600 or log on to www.chicagoacademy.org. For the Chicago Lions, log on to www.chicagolions.com.