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1980-1989

1980, as vaguely recalled by Dave Barna
 
First, I have to doubt that any information from this period will be in the least bit reliable. Remember, the drinking age was 18 and there was a keg or 2 or more on the sidelines. We may have started with liquid breakfast, had a frosty refresher or two at halftime and then started drinking for real once the game was over but my memory is a bit fuzzy. A great funny story is Bob Fisher was very hung over before a game and it had rained so much that we didn’t want to chew up the regular field at Hookway so we used the field that was up the small hill. There was a small pond that covered half of the field (side to side) around mid field and around 10 yards on either side. Bob wanted to cut back on running so he effective closed a big part of the field by walking into the middle of the pond and relieving himself right before the game. You might want to include something about SURFC hosting the Michelob Upstate Collegiate Championships  (a precursor to the Budweiser Knockouts.) The B side defeated the evil Cornell in 1980(?) and the captain, Les Westerman slept with the trophy until it was stolen by some miscreants who thought it belonged in the trophy case in one of the athletic buildings. I think that was the year that we let an Iranian order the tournament t-shirts and it had several misspellings.
 

1981-1983, as vaguely recalled by Eric Fournier - Rugby in the age of Reagan

First we need to set the stage.  Ronald Reagan had just been elected president, the Soviet Union was still in business and Germany was two countries. The world had recently been introduced to the concept of Islamic Fundamentalism, but most politically-minded students were more concerned with apartheid in South Africa.  Punk was dying a slow death and hip-hop was being born. Activist SU students protested plans for a huge hotel adjacent to campus (an 8-story monument to the effectiveness of student protest still stands on University Avenue). This was the era of the preppie where both men and women dressed like male Kennedys (lots of khaki, button-downs and Izods—not a sexy time in fashion). Oh, and the NY State drinking age was just 18. Fake IDs were not required and the university actually provided free beer at dorm parties. A sideline keg of Genesee Cream Ale was as essential to the game day experience as goal posts and balls. It was never tapped until the first-side game was over, the first-side team were encouraged to save a bit for the 2nd-side. And the poor C side? For them, the prospect of a drained keg was all the incentive needed to work their way up to the 1st or 2nd side.

Rugby was different then. A try was worth 4 points. Line-out jumpers had to jump on their own; lifting was forbidden unless you had sneaky props. Scrums formed from a distance and typically charged at each other. The maul was a primary means of securing possession and rucks typically took place when someone screwed up in the maul and dropped the ball. Substitutions were illegal, unless a player was deemed unable to continue by the referee (and they were often very strict) and in this pre-AIDS-era, blood was considered a colorful and essential part of the game, rather than a toxic substance. Jerseys were made of heavy cotton and they soaked up the melted snow of an Upstate Spring like a sponge.

This was rugby before the grown-ups took over. There was no formal league structure, no college championships; the once-a-year upstate tournament decided bragging rights. We had no coach and a captain usually led practices. There was no distinction made between undergrads and graduate students on the team (and there were usually a few guys who didn’t seem to have any actual connection to the school). No one played rugby in high school so we all came to the game as enthusiastic novices. The two biggest rivals were the two local Syracuse clubs—the Rogues and the Harlequins. We played a mix of both college and club sides with no real discrimination (avoiding only the Albany Knicks who were very good at that time). We travelled from Albany to Buffalo, Binghamton to Plattsburgh playing most of the SUNY schools, plus Ithaca, Sienna, Hamilton, and Cornell. 

When I arrived in 1981 the team was laden with a group of older players (mostly graduate students). I signed up for rugby after visiting a table display at the activities fair (rugby was stationed between the Ayn Rand Objectivist Club and the Juggling Club) and attended my first practice before I attended a single class at SU (a bad omen regarding future priorities in my college career). It was a big recruiting class and practices had as many as 60 people (all without a coach). After a week, or so, the new guys became experts as even newer recruits trickled in. We had a few practices, one long scrimmage, and then it was off to Rochester for our first game. When we met at Dellplain one of the older guys said, “Hey kid, why don’t you ride with us?”  I was delighted to be welcomed into the fold so quickly. After the game that day, as we were walking into the bar, the same guy said, “Hey kid, take it easy on the beer, you’ve got to drive us home”. The game itself is just a blur, of course, but I do remember being very confused along with all of the other brand new C-side players. Highlights of that year included a tournament visit to Toronto and the Upstate Rugby Tournament. 

This is my best effort at reconstructing a 1981 first 15.
  1. Bruce Friat

  2. Billy Mazza

  3. Steve Dunckel

  4. Josh Smith

  5. JT More

  6. Roger Sinta

  7. Ferry Finzi

  8. Dave Southwick

  9. Barry Glickstein

  10. Tim Pepper

  11. ?

  12. Rick Portine

  13. John Foley

  14. ?

  15. Steve Anagnost

Denver tour (Spring 1982)

Dago, can you help me out here?

South Carolina tour (Spring of 1983)

For Spring Break 1983 we piled into a van and did a tour of South Carolina. We played Myrtle Beach, the University of South Carolina, and one other club (don’t recall). When we arrived in Myrtle Beach, the first thing we did was expose our pasty-white, upstate NY carcasses into the bright, southern sun. Sunburns of varying intensity ensured. Prior to our first match, we had torrential rains and the field was almost completely flooded by game time. I say “almost completely flooded” because there were a few dry spots comprised of huge fire ant mounds. So we played our first game with sunburns, in water over our boot tops (“we’ll go upstream in the first half”, said Captain Sinta after the coin toss) in the sandy South Carolina dirt mixed in with fire ants. I’m not sure the jerseys dried out for the rest of the trip. The latter two games were much less memorable. On the way back north we took the advice of Geoff Juviler and stopped in Virginia Beach. He recommended it as a fun town to hangout in; however his memories were based on a trip in July, not in March. The town was deserted and the rain returned. We spent the day wandering through the empty streets of this summer resort town and finally hunkered down in a bar called the “Prop Club”. It was actually named for the sailors who are stationed in VB, but it was the closest to a rugby bar we could find. We spent the night in a campground laundry huddled in our sodden sleeping bags trying to find refuge from the driving rain. Reading over the last section it seems like the trip from hell, but somehow we managed to have a good time despite the awful weather.

Typical team from 1984.

  1. Pete Groark
  2. Dago DeSalvia
  3. Carl Frey
  4. Rob Taishoff
  5. Russ Forbes
  6. John Disisti
  7. Eric Fournier
  8. Jim Tryon
  9. Scott MacMaster
  10. Mitch Miller
  11. Tony “wheels” McIntyre
  12. Mark Lowry
  13. Kevin Mills
  14. ?
  15. Chip Hill ?

This may have been rugby before the grown-ups took over, but I don’t think we had a losing season in the time I was there. We were one of the more competitive side in the Upstate union

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