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American Football. Cluj Crusaders. Rafael Ruiz Anaya. Head Coach

American Football. Cluj Crusaders. Rafael Ruiz Anaya. Head Coach

The American Football League played its first ever Championship Final last year.

The new season will start in August 2011 and the first American Football team from Cluj-Napoca, The Cluj Crusaders, are already training to make it to the Romanian Superbowl for a second year in a row.

The Head Coach is Mexican Rafael Ruiz Anaya, who has moved with his family to Cluj-Napoca, Romania a few years ago.

Here is the first CZB Sports Interview.


RiCo, for CZB: You are from Mexico City, the world's largest city? When and why did you move to Cluj?

Rafael Ruiz (Head Coach, Cluj Crusaders): Yes, it is the largest city; you can have more than 20 million people during the day. My first visit was in 2004 (staying 3 months, going back for 1 month, then back another 3 and so on). I'm a resident in Cluj since 2007. The main reason I moved here is because my wife is Romanian and we got tired of the stress and agglomeration of the big cities and we found in Cluj what we were searching for.


CZB: American Football. How did you become an American Football fan?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): I became a fan because in my family American Football was normal sport to practice and watch. My father liked the sport, my mother as well, my cousins and myself played for many years. I started playing at the age of 6 and until the first year of college, after which I became a Powerlifter.


CZB: How did you decide to try to start an American Footbal team in Cluj?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Actually was by accident. I was walking by a field in December 2009 where some guys were playing a match. One of the Bucharest teams was visiting. I got interested at first to offer my help as trainer for the gym since my last experience was as a Powerlifting coach. I wanted to help prepare and develop the team physically. So, that is how I found the people for the team and it happened to be that some of them were trying to learn and play, but they didn't have a coach. That's how I became the Coach.


CZB: Have you coached before?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Yes, before last year I had 7 years experience as coach, started with little kids as assistant and went through a learning process that took me until being Head Coach for a High School team. Last year with the Cluj Crusaders was my 8th year of experience.


CZB: Did you have a strategy in mind? How did you choose the name?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Well about developing the team, I think I had a very clear idea since the beginning what I needed and where I wanna get to and accomplish. We are focusing in teaching people what American Football is, to make it better known, to create a federation with the other teams around the country and of course develop ourselves as an organization that can compete at an international level. About the name, it was already chosen and voted for before I got there.


CZB: How did you start finding the players?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): First, during 2010, it was about friends and friends of friends getting together to practice and play. But this year we made our first recruiting campaign along with the "Cupa de Vest" event, played between Cluj Crusaders and Timishoara Lions to better promote the sport. It was very successful. We tested people in agility, speed, and other aspects to see where in the team people could fit in. We went form a team of 19 players to a team of 34, which is a big difference from last year. Right now, the way things are going, our next recruiting session will take place next Spring.


CZB: How many players are Romanian and how many players are foreign?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): In our team right now all players are Romanian. We suggested to the other teams the rule of having a maximum of 3 foreigners and a maximum of 2 at the same time in the field to make it more fair, since not all teams have foreign players.


CZB: Where do you practice and where do you play? Was it hard to find a proper playing field?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): There is no full fields of American Football in Romania, we have to adapt to the soccer fields. Right now we are training in the field located in Alexandru Vaida Voevod, near the cartodrom, in Gherogheni. There we have also held our home games. Unfortunately, this field is soon to be demolished and a water polo pool will be built there. So, we'll be in a difficult situation trying to find a place to practice again.

It's been hard trying to find a proper field since we don't have any kind of sponsor to pay the rent for a field, and the fact that even when sometimes we could have paid for a field, all the grass fields are owned or rented by the local Soccer clubs (U Cluj and CFR Cluj).


CZB: How are you going about trying to have more people watch and learn the sport in a country with no prior history of American Football?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Promotion is the key. This sport can be very spectacular, all that moves around it makes it very interesting for the sport itself and for the show around it - of cheerleaders, contests, music, etc. We are still developing this part of the sport, therefore in the meantime, we also give away flyers in each game with a basic explanation of what American Football is about and the basic rules.

We, The Cluj Crusaders, have been lucky to also have a lot of people from Cluj interested in us, and now a lot more people know about us and the sport. It is also about starting to have journalists, specialized press that would write a little about American Football, not only national but international news. Even a small weekly column will be a good boost for the sport and would let more people find out about it.

We hope to have a broadcast of a full game on TV in a short time, for example this year's final game. In my opinion the first TV station that decides to give it a chance is going to make history in Romania. Just like we are making every year historic, as the pioneers of the sport, along with the other teams.


CZB: How old is the Romanian American Football League and what is the oldest team?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Currently we are trying to form a league (one doesn't really exist). American Football in Romania started about 4 years ago with Constanta Sharks being the first team, followed by the Bucharest Warriors, that same year.


CZB: Are there other American Football Associations in our neighboring countries and are there talks of an international championship or a Balkan or East European Cup?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Romania was the only country without American Football. Even Moldova has an American Football Federation. There are a lot of tournaments held all around Europe. Eastern Europe has less experience with American Football but is well ahead of Romania. One of the goals to achieve is to be able to be part of the European Federation of American Football (EFAF) as a unified federation and to be able to participate in the many tournaments and cups that already exist. But in our opinion (The Cluj Crusaders), first we need to develop internally before we try to adventure outside. A solid base of knowledge and development is a very important step.


CZB: You also have your players train for powerlifting and your players are competing on two sports levels simultaneously?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Yes our players do Powerlifting, I don't think there's a word in Romanian since the National Federation is called Federaţia Română de Powerlifting. Not all the players are involved at competition level. Powerlifting is a sport that helps develop the players and prepares them for the demands of American Football. In fact, this is also used in many other sports that require strength development. Right now we have actually two teams, one of American Football and one of Powerlifting. The Powerlifting team is formed also by some people not doing American Football and we hope to have some people competing in the National Championship this year.

Getting back to American Football, gym training is basic and depending of the phase that you are in your preparation, the trainings at gym are adapted, because of course you can't do both sports at a peak level at the same time.


CZB: Are all players and yourself doing this voluntarily right now and how long do you think you can keep the team together as a hobby unit?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Yes, all players and myself do this voluntarily, there are no salaries for players or myself, everything has come form our own pockets, for the love of the sport. About keeping it together, well, it can be as long as we want to keep practicing the sport, I myself would not call it a hobby, because it is not. I would call it an amateur sport, which by the way is the way it is played in most countries outside of the professional league of USA, the NFL. This sport cannot be a causal sport, a sport where you can just gather from time to time to throw some ball. If you don't practice and learn the sport you can get injured, at least at the level we are playing and intending to reach.

We have demonstrated that as long as you really want to do the things, you can. It is about having the will, the discipline and other values that the sport itself teaches the players and that they in the end will use in their normal lives becoming better students, athletes, citizens and persons. So as long as people like this sport and want to practice it for real, the team will continue.


CZB: What do you consider are some of the levels of competition that have to be met for the team or the league to become professional and have private funding for salaries, equipment and proper infrastructure?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): My personal point of view on this is that it is hard to do it professionally. American Football around the world, outside of the USA is mostly amateur, meaning there are no salaries. The word professional in many cases means having a salary, getting paid for doing something. This sport requires lot of money to do it and this is why the NFL is the biggest league. There was an attempt in Europe to have it at a professional level like the NFL, called NFL Europe, but financially it was not possible to maintain it.

I'm not saying that it is impossible to achieve it in other countries, just that maybe it will require more years, especially for promotion and knowledge of the sport.

As for Romania, I think it will take some more years to have a full infrastructure (mostly fields) that can have the sport to be practiced like in countries with an older tradition. But I'm sure sponsors will come as soon as they realize how big this can be and that would help develop the sport around the country.


CZB: Was it a hidden wish, or a complete surprise to find yourself in the Romanian Super Bowl Final after your first active season and what emotions did you have making it that far?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Well I think it was more of an Objective. If you want to win, you have to think as a winner and we had since start the objective of arriving to the finals since start. It was a great accomplishment to get that far, specially being the "new kid in town" referring to the team. We had a few months experience, while other teams had a few years. I just feel very proud of my whole team, for the effort and dedication they were able to put into doing it. Once again, this shows what can happen when you want to do something you just really want to do.


CZB: When does the second season start and what is this year's target and do you think all the players will be motivated to attain this goal?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): Right now they are voting the schedule for the new championship but it might start during the last week of August or the second week of September. I think all the players, veterans and rookies are very motivated right now and of course we have the same objective, to get to the finals and win.


CZB: Where can we go watch the games and how much does a ticket cost?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): In or case, The Cluj Crusaders don't know for sure where the games will take place, since we have the situation of the field being demolished, but we hope to solve this problem as soon as we have the final calendar for the championship. Last year and this year, the entrance fee for a game was free. We don't want to ask for any fee, since what we want right now is to promote the sport and have people go, watch and learn about it.


CZB: Is there a website or Facebook page? How can people support the cause?

Rafael Ruiz (Cluj Crusaders): People can find information about us at the links at the end of the interview.

I think the best way people can help us is by going to the games and supporting our team. Of course any donation or sponsor is always welcome, so we can develop even more, but supporting us during games will already make a total difference for our home matches.




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