Ruggers, what gives?
Do you play for the mayhem? The third-half libations? Or for the bonds that last a lifetime? However you define its appeal, rugby at Drew has had a glorious 50-year run.
And it’s far from over.
By Christopher Hann
Photography by Bill Cardoni
This spring marks 50 years since Drew students first convened a team of young men to compete against squads from other colleges, many of them institutions much larger than Drew, in the mostly untried and only vaguely familiar game of rugby. And over the ensuing half-century Drew rugby players of both genders—a women’s team was founded in 1992—have forged a communal bond that extends far beyond the broken noses and bloodied scalps received on the rugby pitch. “The closest and dearest friends in my life are my DRFC teammates,” Tony Buttacavoli ’82 wrote in this magazine three years ago, referring to the Drew Rugby Football Club. “We have stood up for each other at our weddings and are godfathers to each other’s children. We are family.”
Test Your Rugby IQ
To commemorate the golden anniversary of rugby in the Forest, we present the following quiz, giving special attention to that coterie of pioneers who introduced the game to Drew.
Looking for answers? Check below.
At Drew, rugby operates as a club rather than a varsity sport, and thus the teams are neither governed nor financed by the university. Given the heightened sense of irreverence and individuality that seems particular to practitioners of the sport, this is no mere incidental distinction. In rugby, a game with ancient roots, participants spend 80 minutes trying to inflict all manner of bodily hurt upon their opponents in an attempt to prevent them from scoring a three-point try—the rough approximation of a touchdown in American-style football. At game’s end, members of both sides shake hands and proceed to what is known as “the third half,” the ritual post-game display of solidarity expressed by the collective singing of song and quaffing of beer. Generations of Drew ruggers have honored this ritual with religious devotion.
Close to Heart
Chris Deraney ’13 keeps alive the memory of two fellow ruggers lost too soon.
The tattoo of a pouncing wolf emblazoned across the left side of Chris Deraney’s rib cage serves as a daily reminder of the bonds he’s forged as a Drew rugger. Alongside the wolf are the names of two rugby teammates, Bryan Case ’10 and Larry Pierre, who died within a four-month span in 2011.
Case, a member of the Army Reserves, was deployed following his sophomore year, spending a year in Iraq as a psychological operations specialist. Upon returning to Drew, Deraney says, Case suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and passed away in April 2011. Pierre was killed by stray gunfire in his hometown of Elizabeth, N.J., in July 2011. “It was my memorial to them,” Deraney says of his tattoo, “the way I accepted they were gone.”
As you might expect, nothing about the tattoo’s image is accidental, not even its geography. According to Deraney, the rib cage is the most painful part of the body on which to receive a tattoo. “I wanted to go through that for them, to offer up that pain for them,” Deraney says, “to make it more memorable and more important to me.”
The wolf was chosen, he says, because it’s his “spirit animal.” “It’s a pack animal,” Deraney says. “It’s stronger in a pack.”
The names of Case, a former roommate, and Pierre were inscribed (in Deraney’s handwriting) in Arabic, because Deraney is of Lebanese descent. “I didn’t want it to be an obvious memorial tattoo,” he says. “I wanted it to mean more to me than anyone else.”
Like so many who came before him, Deraney, an English major and music minor, had never played rugby before enrolling at Drew. But he took to the sport immediately, drawn in large part, as the tattoo attests, by the singular intensity of the team’s fellowship.
“The team,” Deraney says, “has really been one of the most important parts of my Drew career.
Rugby IQ Answers
1. Pita J. Ala’ilima ’64.
Ala’ilima was the founder and first captain of the Drew men’s rugby team. A native of Western Samoa, he was one of the few members of that maiden squad who had actually played the game before coming to Drew.
2. Robert Oxnam.
For its first three years the team played in hand-me-down soccer jerseys. “They were made out of some plastic material,” says Hunt Jones ’70. “When you sweated, all the water stayed inside the shirt. You just got hotter and hotter.” In 1966 Oxnam stepped in, buying 30 authentic rugby jerseys from an Australian manufacturer.
3. Don Clarke ’72.
Clarke’s 45-yard conversion kick, following a try by Mike Lescault ’71, gave Drew a 5–3 victory in a fiercely contested game at West Point, with plenty of Army brass in attendance for Homecoming. The Drew squads of the 1960s often surprised more established rugby clubs such as Rutgers, Columbia and Princeton. “They probably put us on the schedule for Homecoming weekend as a sacrifice,” Clarke says of the Army game. “It obviously didn’t work out the way they had hoped.”
4. The pig.
After each season the team would bid farewell to the mascot, then savor it during a team pig roast.
5.The men’s rugby team members typically carpooled to away games. But during one stretch in the 1970s and ’80s, the team splurged on a charter bus (yes, it was blue) and a driver. The trip took its name from a lyric in a song by The Doors, “The End.” (“C’mon baby, take a chance with us / And meet me at the back of the blue bus.”) The Blue Bus Trip inspired many memorable stories. Here’s just one. In the early 1980s the team was headed to New York City, its post-game keg of beer stored securely in the luggage hold below the bus. Or maybe not so securely. As the bus approached a tunnel, the keg crashed through the hold’s door and went bounding through traffic. The ruggers gave chase, corralled the keg and restored it to the hold, this time securely.
6. Bill Bernhard ’82.
In a 1987 game against Tunisia in Pebble Beach, Calif., Bernhard scored 14 points in a 47–13 blowout.
7. Malachy McCourt.
“He looked like an Irish flag,” recalls former player-coach Steve Carnahan ’67. “Orange socks, white shorts, emerald green rugby jersey, brilliant red beard.”
8. Emily (Riggs) Fennessey ’96.
After forming in the spring of 1992, the club endured an inauspicious launch, with an uneven turnout of players and a regular turnover of coaches. Riggs scored her try for the Brewsers during a scrimmage in the spring of her senior year. Today, the team’s affiliation with the Morris Rugby Club, which has provided coaches the past three years, has given the team some much-needed stability.
9. In the 1960s and ’70s, the Schaefer Cup was awarded to the winner of the annual match between Drew and Princeton.
The Tigers were a perennial rugby power, but in the spring of 1969 Drew prevailed, 10–0. Alas, in the aftermath, the Schaefer Cup never materialized, and the Princeton team, defying rugby tradition, did not stick around. As Hunt Jones ’70 recalls, it was the first time the Drew ruggers conducted their post-game party on campus. “We were so elated and so noisy,” Jones says. “There were multiple reports of too much merriment.”
10. Former Drew rugby coach Alex Boraine G’69, a native of South Africa, was appointed by Nelson Mandela to be deputy chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created in 1995. He wrote about the experience in A Country Unmasked: Inside South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Oxford, 2001).
11. John Hinchcliff G’69 and Roger Martin ’65.
Hinchcliff, from New Zealand, was a standout player-coach from 1965 to 1968. Later he became president of Auckland University of Technology. Martin, who played with Pita Ala’ilima and was coached by Alex Boraine, later ascended to the presidency of both Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., and Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va.
12. A 50-second YouTube clip starring women’s rugger Judea Hill ’13.
In the video, taken during a 2010 game at Columbia, Hill catches a pass and rumbles toward the try line. En route, she encounters a would-be Columbia tackler. Upon impact, the Columbia player is tossed backward, ragdoll-like, about the length of a New York City block. “I didn’t even know what happened to her,” Hill says of her unfortunate opponent. See for yourself at drew.edu/judeahillrugger.
13. Nalani Tarrant ’10, Kate Etcheverry ’10, Ralph Scoville ’80 and Chris Walsh ’80.