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Fort Collins, CO, 80521
United States

~Excellence through Commitment, Commitment through Passion~

History

Since the inception of Ram Rugby in 1970, the club has seen immense progress. Starting with less than 15 players on the field, and only $17 in the bank, the club has managed to climb the collegiate ranks to be nationally ranked in both 7's and 15's...

The CSU Rugby Club was organized in February 1970 by Dave Freedman and Mike Wray. Seventeen players reported for that first practice early in April, 1970. Most of these "charter members" had little knowledge about the game of rugby. To further compound the teams problems, they had little equipment (their uniforms were old castoff football jerseys), they had trouble finding a field on which to practice, and they had less than a $20 budget from the university (not even enough to buy a rugby ball). The teams only game that spring season ended in a humiliating 23-0 defeat at the hands of the Denver Barbarians.

In the seasons following the teams creation, the CSU Men's Rugby Club steadily improved to provide the student body with a consistent winner. In the three seasons following the 1970 season, the club increased its membership to 45 strong, and posted a 24-8 record. In the Fall of 1971 the club lived a "rags to riches" success story by winning the Pabst Cup Championship (rugby championship of Colorado), by posting a 10-1 record, thereby receiving national recognition... The club has been improving and growing to what it is today, ever since!


 
 

 Founding of the CSU Men's Rugby Club as remembered by cofounder, Dave Freedman.

I played rugby for another school for a couple seasons, around 1968-69, before I transferred to CSU. There was no rugby program at CSU, so what else is a bloke to do but start a team. In the spring of 1970, I placed an ad in the daily campus newspaper asking anyone who wanted to play rugby, no experience required, to show up for a meeting one evening in the student center. I recruited a few guys by word of mouth, including Bob Warner, Dave Ochoa, Greg Brown, and Tim Casey. Those guy and several more showed up for the meeting, including Mike Wray, Rick Miller, Ed Mast – and I’m sorry if I can’t remember more. Mike and I were the only guys who had played any rugby – Mike had played in high school in the Los Angeles area (but his family had since moved to a ranch with several hundred thousand acres in Klamath Falls, OR). My background – I hailed from the Chicago suburbs, was on the baseball team at CU before I got sick of the straight-laced regimentation of varsity sports and joined the rugby team instead.

At that first meeting, Mike was elected team captain and I was elected president. We scheduled some practices, we talked to the Athletic Dept. and wrangled a field to practice on, got some used football jerseys to wear, and some beat up footballs to practice with because we didn’t yet have a rugby ball. I went to a student council meeting and petitioned for some funds; I considered it an honor that first they recognized us as a team, and second they gave us $17. We raised a few more bucks from team members and sent away to Australia for a rugby ball, which arrived around our third practice.

At the first practice, Mike and I taught the guys fundamental rugby skills like passing and kicking. At the second practice, we separated players into forwards and backs and practiced some more fundamentals. Then at the third practice we started teaching players the game of rugby. Mike and I found that we needed to acquire some rule books, because we weren’t sure about the rules. Around the middle of that first season we contacted the Eastern Rockies Rugby Football Union (the president was Terry Fleener, who looked like a huge monster but was a real nice guy), and arranged to play some exhibition matches against CU in Boulder and the Denver Barbarians in Fort Collins. Before those matches, a half dozen of us went to Estes Park and played on the Estes Park Rugby Club because they didn’t have enough players. I don’t remember whom we played against, but the Estes Park team folded not long thereafter. We didn’t win any matches that season, of course.

In the fall, we became official members of the Eastern Rockies union and played a full schedule of matches. A few more guys who had played rugby before came out for the team, including Harley Westfall and Anson Perina. Harley should correct me if I’ve got my facts a little distorted, because after all it’s been 36 years. We had a lot of good athletes on the team, most of whom had played football in high school, and some like Harley had played football in college but either quit or got kicked off the team. Harley, I believe, got kicked off the team for messing around with the coach’s daughter, but I may be a little hazy on that. We won some games in that first full season, in fact we may have won more than we lost.

Harley Westfall was one of the world’s natural wonders. It took about seven players to bring him down, once he got moving with the ball. When he was sober, it took nine players to bring him down. Rick Miller was another wonder – he could make a penalty kick from three blocks away. Mike Wray, with his aristocratic manner, was an ingenious strategist and motivator. Jack Steinhorst initiated the tradition of having the team yell, in unison as we broke out of our pre-game huddle, “Smegma!”

The following spring, we competed in the Aspen Ruggerfest. It had snowed just before the fest, and then warmed up considerably so that the field was soggy. I think we won a game or two before losing, I think, to a team from the Bay Area. At the end of the fest, the field was a sea of mud, and we got a classic team picture with all the players mud-caked.

We also developed a reputation for great after-game parties. Once the Denver Barbarians came over to Fort Collins after they played in Greeley, to party with us after our match against another team. We initiated the tradition of throwing only one cup of beer on a player who mangled a verse of one of the rugby songs. You know, “Why was he born so beautiful…” Other teams in the union adopted that tradition, and beer sales dropped in the region.

At one of the Aspen Ruggerfests, Bob Warner won the national beer-chugging contest. He could tip his head back and literally pour beer down his throat.

Over the summer I went home to Chicago and played on the Chicago Lions rugby club. I toured Europe with the Lions, playing three games on their B team and one on the A team. We played three third-level (local) teams in the London area (lost all three games), we played the Dutch national team in the Hague (beat them), and then a few teams in Germany. I scored a try in The Hague, one of the highlights of my life. But in Europe my eyes were opened to a superior way of playing rugby – the teams there played with more finesse and much better ball handling than U.S. teams. European players had big thighs and small shoulders, opposite of the typical American hulk. Over the course of two weeks and 8 or 9 rugby matches in Europe, there was only one minor injury on our team. That’s because the emphasis was on passing and kicking, rather than smashing skulls. I learned a lot about the game as it should be played. The following fall season at CSU, I introduced my new insights to the Rams team, and we developed more of a finesse game than before. We had a tremendous amount of talent on the team, we worked hard and had fantastic esprit de corps, and that season we won the Eastern Rockies championship. In our final match in the tournament, the score was tied 0-0 at the end of two halves, and we won in sudden-death overtime when Dave Garvey scored a try.

When I was in Europe I became friends with the president of the Notre Dame rugby club, who was on the Lions tour. We arranged for the CSU team to go to South Bend and play in a tournament against Notre Dame, Louisiana State, and Kent State. They didn’t expect a team from cow town USA to be much good, and they bragged about the “Notre Dame mystique” which was like having 16 players on the team, but we beat the shit out of them.

The following year, Notre Dame came to Fort Collins to play in a tournament that we hosted with CU and Air Force. I think Air Force beat ND to win that tournament, but I may be wrong. We got Pabst to sponsor the tournament and supply the trophy, so we called it the Pabst Cup. We printed up a program and sold advertising in it to raise money for the team. I remember one of the ads was for Campus West Liquors, which said, “Suppliers of the CSU Rugby Team.”

One season we were invited to play against the U. of Utah and Brigham Young in Salt Lake City. We lost pretty badly against BYU, and discovered that they were the dirtiest team we had ever played – they wanted to win at all costs, and they intentionally injured a couple of our players.

In those days we had a B team and a women’s team also. Each of those teams won a championship, around the time that our A team won the regional championship – it may have been the same season. We were masters of the game and we had fun, and we loved one another. Throughout my professional career, when I needed inspiration to keep plugging away at something, I always think of the CSU rugby team and how we started out humbly and worked hard and improved and kept working hard and kept improving until we were champions. And made some life-long friends while we were at it.

We had a 30-year reunion of that championship team a few years ago, which was so wonderful. I am glad that you guys are maintaining an alumni organization to keep us old farts involved and in touch with each other.

There you have it. If I recall any more, I’ll let you know.
— David M. Freedman