by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday and one that provides all of us an opportunity to pause and give thanks for our blessings. In this offering, I will attempt to express long overdue thanks for all that I have been given.
Thank you to Cecil Youngblood, Dan Kilen, Dave Sarafin, and Neil Ealy for exposing me to rugby and tolerating my unending curiosity about the game. These individuals were highly influential early in my rugby career. They were terrific athletes who took their rugby seriously and exposed me to the vast opportunities that rugby could provide. This propitious introduction to rugby is largely responsible for my career.
In 1990, I travelled to Whakatane, New Zealand and stayed with the Hooper family for a season. Don and Annette, along with their children Rob, Wayne and Marise graciously opened their home to me so that I could advance my rugby at an accelerated pace. The experience provided me a lifetime’s worth of rugby lessons and off the field friendships.
After returning from New Zealand, I played for the Old Blues Rugby Club, may it rest in peace. The Old Blues were a collection of America’s best rugby players and along with OMBAC, set the standard for the rest of domestic club rugby here in the States. I am thankful to have been able to play with American legends like Gary Hein and Chris O’Brien in the same colors of the university I now coach.
I am grateful for my teammates, far too many to individually list here, for their support and inspiration. One of those men, Don James Jr., was a major force behind my earning a professional player contract in 1996. Without Don’s belief in my abilities, I would never have thought playing in the English Premiership possible. The experience was invaluable and I am proud to have battled for respect as an American player beside Dan Lyle, Ray Lehner and David Hodges.
My representative career coincided with Jack Clark’s tenure as United States National Team Head Coach and General Manager. The team broke new ground during each team assembly and established a culture that many of my teammates and I benefited from. We were fortunate to be provided every opportunity to be competitive international rugby players, something not every American international has experienced. We never apologized for winning, and never made an excuse if we lost. It was during this point in my playing career I came to understand I was meant to be a coach. How lucky am I to now be a rugby coach at the University of California, Berkeley.
Following my representative career, I had the privilege of coaching our national team. The richness of the experiences, both painful and joyous, I would not trade for anything. Leading such a proud group of tough Americans abroad is something that I doubt I will ever be able to professionally top. The efforts of the team and staff to bring honor to the red, white, and blue at each and every turn remains an inspiration to me.
During Thanksgiving 2010, I will pause and especially give thanks for my family. My younger sister has been through hell and beyond over the past eight years due to a host of health issues and I am thankful she is still with us today. Her ability to battle back from setback after setback is something I can’t capture in words.
I give thanks to you, the loyal www.rugbyrugby.com readers, for allowing me to share some of my rugby knowledge and experiences with you over the past four years. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
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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