by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
At Cal Rugby, we are fortunate to have a home field on campus. Witter Rugby Field (WRF) is much more than just an athletic field to us. WRF is doted over like a dear elderly relative who’s care we’re responsible for.
If there was ever a time to be grateful of having a home field it was this past weekend. Witter Rugby Field, seated in the campus’s beautiful Strawberry Canyon, was the epicenter of a significant day in our rugby program. Rugby will not host a match on campus until 2013 season.
With supporters of both teams filling every available seat, nook, and cranny of WRF, those arriving late were greeted with a “sold out “ sign resulting in a short vertical hike up “Tightwad Hill” to view the match from the hillsides that surrounds WRF. The atmosphere was super-charged for several reasons including the impending removal of the natural grass surface to install new generation field turf to accommodate our football team training needs while Memorial Stadium receives comprehensive renovations.
For the many hundreds of Cal Rugby men, WRF has come to be both sacred earth and dream maker. Scores of former players returned last weekend to view their university’s team run onto WRF one last time in a league match that held playoff ramifications. Several former players were seen reaching down to grab a few blades of grass to place in their pocket for safekeeping until a grass surface is returned. Beyond its natural beauty, WRF has gained a reputation on campus as being the best Olympic sport “ticket” and the thousands Cal faithful turned out yet again for another beautiful afternoon even though the campus was on spring break. Similar to every home match at WRF, supporters enjoy a detailed match day program, music, concessions and Cal merchandise onsite, amenities not offered by some of the other 26 varsity teams during home contests.
Having a home field anchors the team to the campus community. With WRF being temporarily resurfaced with synthetic turf, we face a challenge and are offered an opportunity. The challenges include finding suitable match venues for a handful of home matches, but losing the ability to play matches on WRF offers us opportunities to reach out to surrounding rugby communities while playing off campus. If lemons are what we have to work with, we are going to produce some damn good lemonade.
At the conclusion of last weekend’s second and final match, memories of hard fought matches on WRF flooded the senses. For a half an hour after the final whistle was blown, images of well-crafted tries, goal line stands taken, and the exhausted look of players after putting everything they had into their performance while on our home field wandered through my head. It is hard to comprehend two years without being able to compete on WRF, but as they say, “this too shall pass”.
There are many college teams who have terrific home fields and facilities. Like Cal, they have worked hard to establish permanence on their campuses. BYU’s South Field, Corey Ford Fieldhouse/Brophy Field at Dartmouth, Pat Vincent Field in Moraga, named after former Cal Rugby star and New Zealand All Black, and the Steuber Stadium at Stanford University, site of the national collegiate championship the past seven years. Each home field is special to the players who run onto it while competing in their school’s colors.
There is good reason they call it “home field advantage”. Home field is home.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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