When we talk of growing rugby in America we often talk about the numbers of youth currently playing the game, the explosion of teams at the High School level, and even the success of our national teams. That’s good. We should be concerned about those things. They are a huge part of growing the game, but at the same time, it would be wrong if we didn’t look back and appreciate the rich history of rugby in America.
The United States Rugby Football Foundation has been leading the charge in this regard. The USRFF has mainly been known for their encouragement of youth rugby and the awarding of scholarships to attending high level training camps. But over the last several years the organization has made a concerted effort to reach back and celebrate the history of American rugby. In that vein the USRFF has established the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame, which is available virtually at www.usrugbyhalloffame.org. If you haven’t been to the website already you should check it out. It’s a great resource for fans and a great place to learn about the history of the game in America.
Yesterday, the USRFF inducted 12 new members in the Hall of Fame. These new members range from impact players such as Babe Slater (star on the 1920 and 1924 gold medal teams), Rob Bordley (first captain of the Eagles), Craig Sweeny (former Eagles captain), and Kevin Higgins (first American to play for the Barbarians), to administrators like Harry Langenberg (co-founder of the Missouri Rugby Football Union), Ed Lee (past president of the Eastern Rugby Union), Dick Smith (past president of the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest Rugby Unions), and Vic Hilarov (the first president of the USA Rugby Football Union). Also included on the list of inductees are media representatives Ed Hagerty and Jon Prusmack, former Eagles coach Ray Cornbill, and Ian Nixon, the first U.S. international referee and past president of the U.S.A. RFU.
All of these inductees have laid the foundation for the current level of rugby in this country. Without them we wouldn’t be developing future members of the Hall of Fame, people like Cal coach Jack Clark, Eagles captain Todd Clever, and current Eagles coach Mike Tolkin. Honoring these men, and hopefully women, with a Hall of Fame honor is the right way to celebrate our heritage.
Another important aspect of the Hall of Fame is that it gets us thinking outside of only focusing our regular Saturday matches and thinking in terms of future impact. Every time we teach a young player the sport we are helping grow future players and potential Hall of Famers. We like to think of rugby as a family and just like any family, it starts with one or two people and grows to become an entire tree. If current players spend the time and effort to reach out and make an impact in their community, in 20 years times they will be astounded by the results. Could you imagine what some of these recent inductees would think if we told them that millions of school children were introduced to the sport in the last several years?
All of these Hall of Fame members went out of their way to make a difference. That is what separates them and makes them great. It’s wonderful that the USRFF has led the initiative in this area and given us all something to aspire to. Still, inspiration only takes us so far. It’s up to us to go out a make difference in the rugby community starting today.
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