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Behind most good teams, successful clubs or professionally run events, there are people who do a massive amount of work and go unrecognized. The award for Contributor of the Year, then, is perhaps the most important accolade we hand out. The others are reserved for coaches and players, who more regularly receive pats on the back or media attention for their achievements.
This year, we honor Howard Kent. He’s served in many roles, but is perhaps most associated with the Denver Barbarians 7s program, which he has retired from managing after nearly two decades of unheralded work.
Few clubs have enjoyed more success in the 7s arena than Denver. Though the Barbarians have never won a national title, they’ve made more appearances at Nationals than anyone else, including 14 years running, and they’ve made more quarterfinal, semifinal and final appearances than anyone else.
In 2013, Kent’s next to last year as manager, the Barbarians finished second in the nation for the sixth time in club history, falling to a Seattle-OPSB team with as much international and Eagle talent as about any team ever. That’s maybe the most remarkable part of Denver’s run. Every year there’s some kind of arms race between teams to score the most Eagles. Seattle won that arms race in 2013 and 2014, as well as back-to-back national titles. Belmont Shore won in 2011, and subsequently the national title.
Denver has never gotten mixed up in the arms race. The Barbarians have succeeded on the backs of their 15s players, a few college recruits from places like Oklahoma, Colorado and Colorado State, and many more local college kids. The Barbarians have relied on teamwork, coaching and consistency.
Since 2001 in West and Frontier events, Denver has amassed an incredible record of 221-18 in 47 tournaments, winning 31 tournament titles. That's a 14-year winning percentage of 92.5. Through coaching changes and player turnover, the one constant has been Kent, nervously roaming the sideline with his clipboard.
In recent years, he has taken on more responsibility outside the Barbarians umbrella, running the NSCRO 7s championships and the Frontier and West 7s circuits. He also managed the elite Denver team for USA Rugby’s Elite City 7s this year, and he’ll look to continue in those roles.
Kent has also become known for running maybe the best tournament in the country – Denver 7s. While other events may boast more gaudy participation numbers, Denver 7s has divisions all over the board, and is run on time with impressive amenities on the nicest fields in the country. The later matches are played inside Dick’s Sporting Goods Park’s stadium – the home of the Colorado Rapids. Few other instances on the American rugby calendar are there opportunities for high school, college and club teams to be blown up on a jumbotron.
Though Kent is bowing out of the club 7s game without a national championship, he’s a champion in our mind.