More than 750 former and current players and their families came back to campus this October to celebrate 50 years of the Fairfield University Rugby Football Club

by Virginia Weir

On a gorgeous weekend at the beginning of October, more than 750 Fairfield Rugby alumni, student-athletes, and their friends and families gathered on campus for competition, camaraderie, and to celebrate 50 years of the boisterous sport at Fairfield. “This reunion was 50 years in the making and two years in the planning,” said Bill Connolly Jr. ’69, who co-chaired the event with Dr. Kurt Schlichting ’70, E. Gerald Corrigan Chair in the Humanities & Social Sciences and professor of sociology and anthropology at Fairfield.

Along with a volunteer committee of more than 100 rugby alumni and some enthusiastic spouses, they pulled together a weekend that will be remembered for decades to come.

It was a time to share stories, watch and play games, renew friendships, and celebrate the rich history of Fairfield’s first club sport, founded in the fall of 1963 by a group of students who were looking for a fun contact sport at the University. Pete Fallon ’65 stepped up as captain, and the late Dr. John Kenyon, professor of psychology, came on as coach. The Fairfield Rugby Football Club had begun. Since then, more than 1,200 men and women have played rugby at Fairfield.

Let the Games Begin

For the Red Ruggers from the classes of 1964 to 1979, the weekend started with a Friday night reception at the infamous bar near Fairfield Beach, formerly known to most ruggers as the Nautilus. At a reasonable hour the next morning, alumni of all ages faced off in two separate rugby games — one for the “older gentlemen” and one for those 35 and younger. No scores were kept!

Midday, the teams gathered centerfield for the rededication of Lt. Hans Grauert Memorial Field. At its original opening in 1969, the field (or “pitch”) located at the base of Fairfield Prep was one of the very fewdedicated college rugby facilities in the country, named after Lt. Hans Grauert, a Navy fighter pilot who died while serving in thearmed forces during the Vietnam War. His brother, Chris Grauert ’68, was president of the Rugby Club at the time, and the Grauert family decided the field was a fitting way to commemorate his brother.

Grauert read from text that was part of the original 1969 dedication, and thanked the crowd for “taking such passion and pride in Hans’s Pitch,” saying he was “delighted to know that ‘God’s Little Acre’ will continue to be the ‘Big Red Home Pitch’ for many more decades to come.”

Fairfield student-athletes competed in the afternoon — with the men facing off against Marist College in an exciting game that tied at 17-17, and the women winning 37-17 against Hofstra University.

A Fairfield Tradition

There’s something about Fairfield’s Red Rugger spirit and camaraderie that feels unique and sustains them far beyond the  game itself. Dr. Schlichting attributes at least some of that special affinity to the fact that, for the most part, rugby remains a club sport.

“There are very few varsity rugby teams in the country,” he said. “And so some of the things that make a sport exclusive — paid coaches, aggressive recruiting, and so on — are not part of the picture. In rugby, everyone has a chance to try out, and to play. And when the game is done, we go out with the opposing team and celebrate. We enjoy the game. And at this point, some of these guys have been my good friends for over 40 years.”

About 10 years ago, Dr. Schlichting said, someone suggested a meet-up at the legendary White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village. That gathering has evolved into a tradition. Now, someone sends a simple e-mail: “White Horse?” with a date, and up to 20 former Fairfield ruggers will meet at the bar.

That group has evolved into an alumni network, Friends of Fairfield Rugby, which raises funds for the current teams. Many of the alumni, who have gone on to successful careers, encourage current student-athletes tostay in touch with them and send along their résumés when they graduate.

For many Fairfield alumni, rugby is their connection to Fairfield. “The stronger this organization is, the stronger the ties to the University,” said Dr. Schlichting.

Toasts, Tributes, and Stories

The celebration continued under a huge tent on Bellarmine Lawn on Oct. 5, with a cocktail reception, dinner, and full multimedia program —with emcee Tom White ’84 making good use of his whistle to keep the noisier ruggers in line during the presentations. Following an invocation by former University President Rev. Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., the toasts, tributes, and stories began.

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