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The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.
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Clayton Bootleggers Expanding Club with Professional Partnerships

Clayton Bootleggers Expanding Club with Professional Partnerships



Did you know that Johnston County has a Rugby team? Well, it does. The Bootleggers. Appropriate for this area, no? Established in 2013 the Clayton Rugby Football Club, or the Clayton RFC, is one of the fastest growing club teams in the USA. In fact, the Bootleggers just added a U20 squad (players between 18-22). This adds to a team roster that already includes men’s Division 3 and 4 teams and an Old Boys (35 & over) team. In addition, the club supplies coaching support for a youth rugby program called the Clayton Copperheads that offers playing opportunities from kids between the ages of 6 and 18 and is run by Pat & Becky Cunningham.

The Clayton RFC practices twice weekly at East Clayton Community Park and that’s also where they host home games. The club is very proud of their growth. They’ll be hosting their 2nd tournament in Clayton this coming July. It’s called the CottonTown 7s Rugby Festival. And it brings in visitors from out of town as well as giving the Bootleggers and the community a chance to showcase their talent as a team and their organization as a club. A win/win.

I spoke to club President Ted Hardy about how far the club has come and about the serious (dare we say professional?) goals they have for the future.  


Clayton Rugby Football Club Dreams Big


Let’s talk first about the major news coming out of the club in the last few months. You guys have been working on an impressive partnership with the Glasgow Warriors. That’s a professional European rugby team. That’s incredible! There can’t be too many small-town USA club teams that can boast that sort of network?

“Our relationship with the Glasgow Warriors is quite unique. There are a few other relationships between European professional rugby clubs and American clubs, but the American clubs involved are from major markets, field elite squads, and have been around for 30-40 years. The fact that our club is young, just starting to climb the competitive ranks, and from rural North Carolina makes our relationship that much more interesting and special. Our experience with them has been flattering, humbling, and extremely important to our growth. There are cultural, administrative, and marketing structures that we are using right now with the Clayton RFC that are scaled versions of what is being done by Glasgow. We have truly been blessed, but at the same time we went out and worked for it.”

 So, what are the logistics of this partnership?

“Technically speaking, we are referring to our agreement as a Developmental Relationship with Nathan Bombrys, whom is the Managing Director of the Glasgow Warriors. Through him we are gaining access to the Warriors, but we do not have a formal agreement in place with the club. We hope to see this relationship continue to grow to the point where we can create a formal partnership with the Warriors down the road. The current relationship in place provides our club quarterly teleconferences with either Nathan or one of his administrative/marketing staff or coaches depending on the topic we're interested in discussing. Nathan has also helped provide administrative support to our club through his mentoring and advice. He has been instrumental in opening multiple doors for our club in Scotland where we have quietly created a strong network of professional contacts and resources. This relationship led to a group of our Board Members making a development trip to Scotland in February of this year which was an amazing experience. During our stay we spent time with the Warriors as well as staff from the Scottish Rugby Union and multiple clubs in Scotland. All of which was facilitated through our relationship with Nathan. There is a keen interest overseas in the development of rugby in the USA and they were incredibly gracious with their time and information. The hospitality we were shown rivaled our very own Southern hospitality.”

 


What does your partnership with clubs abroad, that aren’t professional teams, look like?

“One club that we have aligned with is Ayr RFC. They are one of the top clubs in Scotland and a model organization with teams in every age group from U6 through Premier Adult Men and Women. We are in ongoing talks with them on a variety of topics. Our goal is to set up an exchange program between our clubs where we have yearly player and coach exchanges. This will allow promising players that come through our club, as well as coaches, to experience true immersion in a rugby culture. This will benefit our players and coaches by improving their knowledge and skill set, and will ultimately help our club continue to rise up the ladder in American rugby as they bring that experience back to Clayton. On the flip side, their coaches and players get to experience rugby in a developing rugby country and bring their experience to our club to help us improve. Our club is also heavily involved in working within the community and developing non-rugby events. Ayr is a leader in this area and their expertise in community events is one of the reasons that Nathan opened their doors for us.”

I don’t know much about rugby but it seems like the momentum that Clayton RFC is building is lightyears beyond what I’d except from a rural club just a few years old.

“We have taken an aggressive approach to our club's development. Instead of focusing solely on wins and losses, we have instead placed an emphasis on building the administrative and operational foundation that will be the platform for sustainable success, on and off the field, for many years to come. Having been around rugby for a very long time, I can say that what is happening with our club is very special in American rugby. There aren't many clubs operating at the organizational level we're delivering, certainly not in the Carolinas.”

So, you’re starting a U20 team. How do you decide when to add teams or program options in the club?

“The U20 team has been in the works for about a year. Jumping from high school to men's rugby is tough physically and mentally. USA Rugby, our governing body, is soon to start pushing U20 as a bridge to help with the transition. We're hoping to get ahead of the curve. We have some really neat ideas for the group that will help those involved and help our club as they develop into men's players. One idea on the table is to take local kids that may have not otherwise gone to college and give them scholarships to JCC so they can get a 2-year degree and play rugby for our U20s while in school. We're also hoping to send some overseas.”

Aside from the growth in teams and participants, what else is on the horizon for the club?

“We have some very exciting prospects on the horizon for our club. At the top of that list is our new rugby facility which we hope to break ground on this Summer. We have recently worked out an agreement with the Town of Wilson's Mills. They have a Community Park project that has been in the works for quite some time. Last year they approached us about getting involved in the project. Almost a year later we have an agreement in place that was unanimously approved by their Town Council. The Town is going to put in a playground, bathrooms, parking and some support structures at the park and then provide us space to develop a multi-field complex. We intend to install 3-4 fields at the park. At least two of the fields will be multi-purpose in nature and one will be what we're referring to currently as a ‘Championship Field’. The Championship Field is going to have permanent professional grade rugby goal posts, a manicured playing surface, team sideline shelters, and raised bleacher seating for 500-1000 fans initially. Essentially a mini rugby stadium. Right here in Johnston County... who would have ever thought?”



This project seems like an excellent opportunity for all involved. We here at the Visitors Bureau of course love it when something brings in tourists (like visiting sports teams and fans). But, this partnership will also be about what the Bootleggers can bring to your community. What’s the ultimate goal in regards to that?

“While we're keeping close tabs on the Championship Field, all of the other fields that we install will be made available to the town and community. This was a win-win for everyone involved. We get much needed land without the expense of purchasing and in return we provide recreational space for the Town. We are also launching a new youth rugby program through the Town of Wilson's Mills next Spring that will be open to kids in Wilson's Mills, Smithfield, and Selma. We have also received permission to construct a full-service clubhouse on the grounds. We expect that to come a few years down the road, but once it is complete it will include banquet space, locker rooms for teams, meeting rooms, a kitchen, and more. We are hoping to team up with the town on that project and allow the facility to be used as a community center as well.”

On the flipside of that, it seems like the ultimate goal of Clayton RFC is to make your home turf an attractive and professional location to play rugby. What could this new facility mean for hosting major rugby events?

“When the facility is complete it will make us an extremely attractive option for hosting rugby events in the Eastern USA. There is very little competition for elite rugby events in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast and we expect our facility to bring in a number of teams and events to Johnston County in the coming years. Our weather profile also makes us an excellent Winter destination option for clubs from the Midwest and Northeast. We've completed some rough economic impact studies and our facility could be the cornerstone for sports tourism for the county. We also intend to use the facility to host non-rugby community events throughout the year like movie nights, concerts, kids events, and more.”

As a club, do you think your ultimate dream is to be North Carolina’s first professional rugby team?

“The fact that there isn't a major sports team in Johnston County is something we are keeping in mind. Another reason why it is important that we lay down a solid foundation first – administrative, financial, coaching, and facilities. While we may not be professional in the sense that we are paying staff, we can certainly take a professional approach to how we operate our club and provide services and entertainment to the community. We aim to continue to grow and improve our teams, which will improve us as a product worth viewing. Rugby has received such a warm welcome here in Johnston County already. I think there is so much potential for the sport here. We, as a community, have a very interesting opportunity to get on board at the ground level with rugby as it begins to explode across the United States. Johnston County could never get a Major League Baseball team or an NFL franchise, but rugby is on the verge of professionalizing in the USA and there is a very real opportunity to bring it to us.”



See It All for Yourself – Catch a Bootleggers Rugby Match


Where can people interested in watching the Bootleggers play see you next?

“Best place to see us next is at our 2nd Annual CottonTown 7s tournament on July 15th. We're hoping to have 30 teams playing in four divisions this year. There should be 2-3 teams of Clayton players in the tourney. That is 7 v 7 rugby like what is played in the Olympics. It is our big event for the year. The season just wrapped up and will start again in September.”

Any last comments?

“I'd be remiss if I didn't take this chance to highlight our many wonderful local partners and sponsors: Deep River Brewing Company, Clayton Chiropractic, Crossfit Clayton, Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina, Sheetz, World Rugby Shop, and TanseyReviews.com. Without their support, we wouldn't be able to deliver rugby to the community like we do.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Clayton Rugby Football Club, or maybe becoming a Bootlegger yourself, visit their website - www.claytonrfc.com.

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Ham & Yam Time Again

Ham & Yam Time Again


It's time for the Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival in Downtown Smithfield, scheduled for May 6th with a wealth of activities for the entire family.  For the complete schedule of events and all things Ham & Yam, visit the official visitor website for the festival, www.hamandyam.com.


Ham History


The Ham & Yam Festival is a celebration of the agricultural history of Johnston County. The area was once a rural farmland where ham producers and sweet potato growers made a living. Because of this, the focus of the festival remains food. Attendees can find many varieties of hams and yams at the festival – barbecue from the cook-off, country ham biscuits, sweet potato cheesecake pies, country ham pimento cheese, sweet potato smoothies, sweet potato lemonade, baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato funnel cake, and more! If you don’t know the history of the Ham & Yam festival you should read an older, but still relevant article, by Smithfield native Emily Wallace. You can access it here. If you do know the history of the Ham & Yam festival, then you know that this will be the 33rd year.

A lady doesn’t divulge her age, but I will say that the Ham & Yam Festival has been going on longer than I’ve been alive, which means the Ham & Yam festival has been a staple of my life as a Johnston County native. I can see in my interest and anticipation for the festival how I’ve aged over the years. As a child, my joy in attending the festival was an impending glee regarding what wonders I could persuade my mother to buy me: sand art, a princess ribbon crown, possibly something I could have monogramed. As an adult, I take pleasure in a slow perusal of the vendors, looking for locally-crafted things I could use in my house: oh, look, handmade kitchen towels… I’ll take 8, thanks. Growing up has some hard truths to it. Maybe this year I’ll buy a flowing, sparkly ribbon crown just to prove a point to myself.


Family Fun in the Triangle


Ham & Yam is also about arts and entertainment. There are craft vendors, as well as games and rides, a 5K race, a What’s That Yam Thing? Contest, pig races, and more. Three stages include performances throughout the day, including performances by Nantucket at 2:30 p.m. and The Ultimate Eagles Tribute – On The Border at 7:00 p.m.

See you soon in Downtown Smithfield! conveniently located near I-95 and Highway 70, just 30 minutes from downtown Raleigh.

 

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Howell Woodstock Celebrating Earth Day

Howell Woodstock Celebrating Earth Day


If you’d like a way to celebrate Earth Day this year, the annual Howell Woodstock will take place on Saturday the 22nd of April. The event goes from 1:00PM to 5:00PM and is located at Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center in Four Oaks. Take the kids for nature hikes, browse food and craft vendors, and enjoy educational displays. The Tobacco Farm Life Museum will be joining the festivities this year as well as the Science Club from Clayton Elementary. In addition, Jeremy Stroud will be demonstrating Wilderness Survival and Howell Woods will also be partnering with the JCC Science Dept. and the NC Science Festival to offer some hands-on activities.

“This year’s Howell Woodstock is shaping up to be another great event,” said Jordan Astoske, Director of Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center

Howell Woodstock offers many free, fun activities for the family including fishing, mule wagon rides, astronomy, and reptile displays. Kids can enjoy recreational activities like a rock climbing wall and inflatables.

“We are excited to once again be offering this family-fun day out at Howell Woods,” says Astoske. “This is such a beautiful time of year on the Howell Woods property, and we hope folks will come out and bring their families and have a great time with us.”

Visitors to the area the weekend of the 22nd are encouraged to attend. Howell Woods is located a few miles off of Exit 90 on I-95. Whether you're looking for a day trip opportunity or a family excursion, put Howell Woodstock on your calendar. 

Howell Woods is a unique 2,800-acre natural resource located at 6601 Devil’s Racetrack Road in the southeastern part of Johnston County. Programs, activities, and other recreation experiences like bird watching are offered at Howell Woods at other times of the year during spring, summer, and fall. Continue to check their website below for additional information regarding everything they have to offer both locals and visitors to Johnston County.

Howell Woodstock will be held rain or shine. For more information about the event and Howell Woods, please call (919) 938-0115 or visit www.johnstoncc.edu/howellwoods.

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NC Beer Month is Full of Beer and Cheer

NC Beer Month is Full of Beer and Cheer

It’s the time of year again! NC Beer Month is in April! Our JoCo brewers are ready to welcome you with cheers and beers!

When Deep River’s Paul and Lynn Auclair set out to open Johnston County’s first legal brewery in 2013 they had a vision for an award-winning brewery that would have a beer for every type of craft beer lover and would strive to use locally grown ingredients whenever possible. A short time later, Double Barley Brewing came on the scene making Johnston County an even more enticing place for beer-lovers to visit. Double Barley also uses local ingredients and packs a punch, with a tendency towards dark, strong beers.

Both brewers have expanded production and distribution since they opened. Johnston-County-made beers also win awards. In 2016 Deep River took home Silver at the NC Brewers Cup for their Munich Dunkel – “I Think I Left My Shorts in Munich”. They also took home a Bronze for their Barrel Aged Imperial Milk Stout. Double Barley’s “Double Dubbel” Belgian Style Ale won Gold at the NC Brewers Cup and their “Touché” IPA won Silver at Summertime Brews.



This April, for NC Beer Month, you can expect small batch beers from Double Barley, as well as a BBQ Cook-off at the brewery on April 14th. Deep River will be celebrating with its 4 Year Anniversary Party, April 7th-9th, and is releasing a collaboration with another award-winning brewery, Mother Earth out of Kinston. The collaboration will be a hoppy, Australian-style IPA.

Johnston County is part of the Triangle beer scene and conveniently located just minutes from Raleigh, which makes it a perfect craft beer day trip destination. Visitors can also make a weekend out of their visit with the Sip & Stay package. It’s a wonderful weekend itinerary for couples, girlfriends, craft beer & wine enthusiasts and visitors that enjoy spirits and local foods.

Included among the many deals in the package are coupons to Deep River Brewing Company and Double Barley Brewing. The package also includes a special offer room rate, as well as deals on area shopping, dining, and attractions. For more information visit www.johnstoncountync.org/sipandstay.



To learn more about Deep River and Double Barley visit www.deepriverbrewing.com and www.doublebarleybrewing.com. Both breweries will also be participating in state-wide events and festivals for NC Beer Month. For all things #NCBeerMonth related visit www.ncbeermonth.com.

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Up-coming Event Celebrates JoCo Art & Food

Up-coming Event Celebrates JoCo Art & Food


The Johnston County Arts Council will host its eighth Annual Art and Food Festival Gala on March 16, 2017 at the Paul A. Johnston Auditorium on the Johnston Community College Campus. The event is from 6:00-8:00PM and tickets can be purchased in advance by calling Executive Director of the Arts Council, Darlene Williford, at 919-738-9622; she noted that if she is unavailable when you call to be sure and leave a message stating you want tickets. Or you can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Tickets are $40 each or 2 for $75.

The fundraiser will generate monies to assist the Arts Council with funding for the 2016-2017 Artists-in-the-Schools program, to provide scholarships for Johnston Community College students studying Fine Arts, and to fund free community programs including: visual artists paint-outs, Johnston Health art exhibits, and Music for the Lunch Bunch.


Showcasing Local Artists & Chefs


There will also be an art show for the event. Artwork will be on display and available for purchase from Johnston County’s most talented visual artists. There were over 50 pieces in the categories of painting, photography, and pottery in last year’s show.

In addition, attendees will be treated to delicious sample dishes from twelve to fifteen of Johnston County’s finest restaurants. And participating restaurants will compete for awards like Best Entrée, Best Dessert, Best Presentation, Best Side Dish, Most Original Dish, and Best Appetizer. Attendees will have the opportunity to vote for ‘People’s Choice Award’ of Best Restaurant.  Participating restaurants last year included Anthony’s Pizza and Pasta, Parkside Cafe, The Serving Spoon, Sherry’s Signature Cheesecakes, and Simple Twist.


Last Year’s Winners


Winners last year included artists Christer Berg, Mary Jones, Kyle Wilson, and Frank Grubbs while restaurant winners included Anthony’s Pizza & Pasta, The Serving Spoon, and Parkside Café. For the full list of 2016 winners please click here to view our blog on last year’s event.

The mission of the Johnston County Arts Council is to provide quality opportunities in the arts for every Johnston County resident. For more information on their events and initiatives please visit their Facebook page.

For a list of events happening in Johnston County, including arts and entertainment events like this one, please visit johnstoncountync.org/events.

 

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

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Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.

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Meeting Planners

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Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?

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Group Tour Operators

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Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.

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Hotel Packages

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We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.

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