Why I’m (Still) a Rugger

Tom Tani C’78, with Chris Walsh C’80, at the Alumni Homecoming Weekend rugby match in 2006.

Thoughts on a sport that doesn’t let you go.

By Tom Tani C’78

My wife, Christine, is amazed that wherever we go there is always somebody from my rugby world. Case in point: In 1995, we were shopping in Harrod’s in London. We were near the end of our trip and we still hadn’t seen anyone I knew. Christine said, “Well, at last we’re someplace where you don’t know anyone from rugby.”

As if on cue, a voice: “Hey, Tom!!” One of my friends from a New York rugby club who was home on holiday walked over. The look on Christine’s face was priceless.

Me and my fellow Drew Rugby Football Club (DRFC) alumni have found that rugby is a worldwide fraternity with no restrictions. If you’re a member, you’ll have a game anywhere if you look for it and friends around the world if you work at it. Plus, you can play as long as your body holds up—even if it means eventually fitting your shorts over a pair of Depends.

I’m the first to admit that my playing days at Drew were nothing to speak of, but by senior year, I was catching on and wanted to keep playing. When I graduated in 1978, alumni could still play with the club, so I stayed for one more year. Eventually, I joined the Montclair Rugby Football Club and played alongside fellow DRFC alumni, such as Bob Franks C’80 and Mickey Green C’79. A couple years later, I moved on to Monmouth RFC, eventually becoming president, a position I held for many years. With Monmouth, I discovered the joys of going on rugby tours around the country and to England, Ireland and the Bahamas. I’m still a member today. I remember in 1982, when I came back with Monmouth to play Drew in a match, how much my teammates enjoyed their visit to the Forest.

In the 1990s, I started refereeing. I loved it and (as my teammates loudly agree) was a better referee than a player. I was honored to eventually make the USA “Territorial” B panel and got to travel a bit, refereeing around the United States and even the UK. I also served as Referee Society president for our local union (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) for several years.

Drew rugby got us started, but post-Drew “club” rugby was truly our graduate school. Some of my best life lessons came from what I learned in the scrum. The most profound was “age and treachery beat youth and fitness.” That’s one reason alumni sides do so well in alumni games!

The Drew ruggers like me who still play are a bit like Peter Pan: “We don’t want to grow up.” Thanks to understanding spouses and kids, we don’t have to (well, most of the time). All DRFC alumni remember with pride one of our own, Bill Bernhard C’82, who went on to represent our country as a member of the Eagles, the USA National Rugby Team, in 1987.  Since graduation, I have played with (and refereed) still more Drew guys from my era, like Chris Walsh C’80, Mike Smith C’79, Kurt Hoffman C’78, Ralph Scoville C’81 and Tony Buttacavoli C’82. No matter where we go, I can count on always seeing them almost every year back at Drew, kitted up and ready to play in the annual alumni game.

At present, rugby happily takes a back seat to being a dad. My son Philip, who is 10 years old, played his third year of youth rugby this summer and loved it (my wife almost as much). I still ref men’s and U-19 (high school) matches. On more than one occasion a young player has said to me, “My dad said you used to referee (or play) with him!” I laugh at the passage of time.

Among the many things I’m thankful to Drew for was that it was where I discovered this wonderful game, which grabbed me and still hasn’t let go. Fate brought me full circle recently. I worked with some fellow alumni and the current Drew rugby clubs to make sure they had a home field to call their own. Who knows what memories a Drew rugger will write about years from now because of that?

9 Responses to “Why I’m (Still) a Rugger”

  1. Hi Tom,

    Great article about a great game. A friend passed it on to me because of a Google search he made after
    my “Brag,” about the Club”s success in the late 60′s when I played and later coached at Drew. The whole
    issue popped up after watching Invictus with his teenage son’s and my mentioning that I had a Rugger
    chapter in my life. The guys who played Rugby at Drew in those days were a unique collection of gifted
    athletes and free spirits who put together some memorable moments for anyone who cared to underestimate
    them, Army, Rutgers, and Princeton to name a few.
    I also coached High Football and Varsity Offshore Sailing at the Naval Academy, but the Rugby days at
    Drew and those great guys continue to be a highlight.

    Steve Carnahan

  2. Neil Manowitz says:

    Don’t forget about our beloved coach, Steve Carnahan. One of the funniest guys I ever met.

    Neil Manowitz
    Drew RFC, 1969-1970

  3. Tom Tani says:

    Hello and thanks to everyone for their kind words. I made it out to the alumni game this year and was delighted to see two full sides going at it. The “Dad” thing (coaching my son’s youth soccer team) had me show later than I hoped but I still got to ref a half. It was a lot of fun and a bit of a challenge since everyone wore a different colored shirt. I had taken my self of the Society’s Sat. schedule to be at Drew, but was assigned to a college match Sunday between William Paterson College…. vs Drew! Just goes to show, wherever you may go, your past will catch up with you.

    Great seeing everyone and look forward to another alumni game next year!

    Tom T

  4. Evin Lederman says:

    Good to hear that you’re still at it. Thanks for helping me coach the Drew Womans team in about 1992, just as they were getting started.

  5. Neil Block says:

    You probably don’t remember me, but I remember you. I was the hooker from 1980-1983, and was president of the club my senior year. You were a faithful mentor and friend to the club then, and I am glad to see your passion for the sport and DRFC has not waned. I, too, have very fond memories of my time being a part of this “fraternity”. Perhaps the greatest memory I have is the first time we played the cadets of Army. This Army team routinely crushed their opponents, and, on paper, we were outmatched. However, for us it didn’t matter. We were home, the sidelines were packed, the weather was perfect and the music was blasting. As we were warming up, a big coach bus rolls in with the letters USMA on it’s side. We were so pumped up. The game begins, and we were playing out of our minds. We went into halftime ahead. We were actually beating ARMY. Well, in the end, we lost the game. But, we gave that team a good scare. The kegs started flowing soon after the final whistle, and I am fairly sure we won the party.
    I hope there are readers out there that remember this experience whether you were on the field or on the sidelines, and you find yourselves smiling.

  6. Ron Fischetti says:


    Nice piece, and I do remember the first time I met you. You came to one of our practices to help coach the new guys. In every setting, there is always one perosn who is willing to take it upon themselves to get things organized and get things done. It’s an often thankless, but very vital job. Thanks for all you’ve done over years. Your passion and respect for this great game of ours is very obvious thru the years.


    A couple of years back in one of my many post surgical periods on crutches, you reached out to me as a fellow Rugby Brother, and steered me toward a tourmanment near Yorktown, NY. I really wanted to connect to some Ruby vibe and you were a gracious guide on a day when I was flying solo and needed a but of inside knowledge.

    A true illustration of how we are all connected by this game and DRFC.


    Ron Fischetti ’85

  7. Chris Walsh says:

    Tom, Nice piece.

    I know people who, after moving from one area to another, shop for a rugby team to join the same way some people shop for a church or synagogue to join.

    After a few decades of playing mostly just in alumni games, I have been playing regularly again for about 3 years, for the Morris Old Boys. A teammate of mine is Ralph Scoville (CLA ’80). On Tuesday we leave for Munich to play in an Old Boys Tournament. I understand there’s some sort of ‘Oktoberfest’ event going on there at the same time. Maybe we’ll have time to check that out. This will be only the 2nd time I will miss the DRFC alumni game and the first time in 15 years. Oh well. I will start a new streak next year. I heard of a winger on a New Zealand team who just played during his team’s recent tour of Europe, and he’s 70, so there’s precedent for me playing another 20 years. I hope I wouldn’t have to make the move from the scrum to the backfield to do so, though.

    In 2011 we are planning on going on tour in New Zealand during the next Rugby World Cup. If things go right, we will be visiting John Hinchcliff while we’re down there. John was a DRFC player in the early 60s and still keeps up with the news of the Drew club and players.

    The picture accompanying your article indicates three things:
    You enjoy reffing
    Sometimes, while on a rugby pitch, you can’t help but be near some shady characters
    Ruggers age exceedingly gracefully.

  8. rory corrigan says:

    Tom, I was delighted and ilfessed with your rugby letter and even more motivated to respond by my friend, classmate & rugger Harry Litwack. In the spring of 68, I had the pai experience as a Prep ruby player and Drew applicant to be turned into a teen pretzel by Litwack and his Drew mates .Harry had the grace and wisdom to invite me afterwards to their Rugby party and a weekend of dubious activities…the rest is history! As Harry said, they went on to beat Princeton, Army, Duke , Penn and other Eastern powerhouses in their undefeated season of 68. My Drew tennis coach, George Davis, resented my “double dipping ” from the courts to the pitch, but my best wordly friends and memories remain Ben Alexander, Dwight Davies, Rich Whiittaker,Geoff Barger etc from that golden era of Drew Rugby… Thanks for upholding and honoring the tradition….Rory Corrigan cla’72

  9. Harry Litwack says:

    Hi Tom,

    I enjoyed your writing.

    Last week in Roxborough/Manyunk section of Philly I met my cousin Harris’ daughter, Bess’ boyfriend Jeremy. They just moved from Madison, Wisc. where they both finished Masters degrees.
    Now he is attending law school at Drexel. Jeremy is a rugger. Quite good apparently and I could see by the way he carried himself he had a ruggers confidence born of putting one’s body into the fray. The scrums of life vicissitudes of the ball bouncing.

    Jeremy and I instantly had a common language, a brotherhood, a kinship born of playing on pitches although never with or against each other.

    I was telling him about playing & beating Army at West Pt in 1968. Drew teams of the late 60′s beat Princeton, Rutgers & many other MUCH bigger schools. At the time, we were like those who came after us the next generation of Drew Ruggers unaware of the connections, the friendships that follow.

    Guess I’ll see you at reunion assuming you are reffing. How are the knees holding up?


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