By Brandon Vicknair
40th Anniversary of SLU Rugby
The Lion’s Rugby Football Club celebrated its 40th anniversary on in Hammond. Established in 1967 by the late Dr. John Healy, the club is the oldest in the state and carries a rich history. While Southeastern does not endorse the team, it has historically fostered the progress of the club and continues to do so with grants and use of the Kinesiology field.
The team has won multiple Deep South Conference Championships and for nearly 20 years hosted the nation’s largest rugby tournament. In its prime years, the Mardi Gras Tournament, which the club won twice itself, accommodated 64 men’s teams and 18 women’s team and bolstered Hammond’s economy with the highest revenue of the year for those weekends.
“We beat LSU, we kicked their a-s in the first (Mardi Gras) tournament we won,” said alumnus Carl Guy, “but the older we are, the better we were, and we never lost a party.”
Almost 100 ruggers past and present and their families gathered to commemorate the occasion with some coming as far as Pennsylvania to attend. The festivities included a social gathering on Friday night and an alumni game on Saturday. At Friday’s gathering the alumni or “Old Boys,” as they are affectionately known, cavorted and reminisced over old times and met the younger members and current players. Many of the attendants had played together in alumni games past, while some had not seen each other for thirty years. </p>
It’s been 40 years of camaraderie,” said Art Graybill, of the original ’67 team, “I haven’t seen Hank (Ziller) in 30 years; we don’t keep in contact but in the essence of youth it’s like I just saw him.”
Dave Shepherd, “The Godfather of Lion’s Rugby,” saluted the club and its members, hailing it as an “International fraternity.” He also toasted to the memories of alumnus John Barillo who was killed while serving in Vietnam and the recently deceased Bob Tuminello, whose friends consider him one of the greatest players to ever grace the field, scoring an unheard of 389 points in one season. The “Old Boys” have gone on to such lucrative careers as Judges, Professors, Doo-wop singers, Politicians and Doctors.
“Rugby has given me the greatest friends that I’ve ever known,” said Hank Ziller of the ’73 team, “We share a camaraderie of pleasure, pain and passion.”
The alumni game on Saturday was characterized by stiff competition, hard hits and dynamic plays. In the first few minutes of the first half, rugby vet Jonathan “B-Cups” Fowler suffered a game ending nose laceration from the head of Southeastern’s A.J. Calderone. Luck and providence prevailed however as “Old Boy,” Dr. Dave Cuccia of the ’93 team was there to stitch him up before returning to play. The first Try was scored by alumnus Dean Woods at scrumhalf, who executed a “Tuminello Shuffle,” strolling from the five meter line to the try-zone uncontested. Winger Stephen Andrus of Southeastern answered back causing an “Old Boys” turnover and was able rocket downfield. He was chased down near the opposing 22 meter line by the long-legged alum Brandon Box, but one tight juke freed him to Try, bringing the score to 7-5 due to a wide Southeastern conversion kick. Both teams continued to drive the ball determinately for the rest of the half but neither saw the Try-zone until the end of the second half.
1980 standout, Bobby Aucoin, made some impressive breaks throughout the game, but none as spectacular as the game-ending hit he laid on Southeastern’s flanker Jesse Gray, which not only dropped the rugger cold but allowed him to gain some positive field position. Inside center, David Plauche of the “Old Boys” single-handedly thwarted a series of passes and drives as he pushed one player back five meters and man-handled the second nearly into the Try-zone. Late in the second half, Southeastern team cohesion yielded success as Andrus tore downfield after another caused turnover. Tori Umbu gave chase and nearly caught him before he dished the ball to rookie Chris DeCesare. DeCesare broke for the Try-zone; encountering opposition near the five meter line, DeCesare popped to Ryan Charbonnet who was able to punch into the Try-zone to take the lead. A series of drives attested to both teams’ determination, but it would be Plauche who would score off of the hard fought drive and dish from veteran Kevin Kirby, to tie the game and bring it to overtime..
In O.T., Cuccia, on the outside wing drove deep into Southeastern territory before getting it back inside to Kirby. Kirby broke downfield and relayed the ball down the wing back to Cuccia who was able to break for the Try.
With the score 19-12 near the end of the period, the “Old Boys” were feeling confident as Woods said, “Age and treachery will overcome youth and endurance.”
The last few minutes yielded a well-oiled drive of desperation as Southeastern drove and cut into alumni territory. DeCesare executed a brilliant “up and under” play in which he chip-kicked the ball to himself and blazed into the Try-zone to even the score once more. Play continued but with the both teams exhausted at the end of O.T., the captains decided to call it a game.
“They’ve got the talent, the muscle, and the speed, they just need to get their heads n the game,” said Dave Shepherd, “they’re very talented, but if they had somebody to coach them they would be really good.”
“We played better rugby than they did, but they had experience on us and played a lot of tricks on us,” said scrumhalf Miguel Larrea, “overall it was good competition.”
<p>Reunion and alumni organizer Cliff “Sonny” Fontenot had this to say about the occasion: </p>
<p>It was great to see so many old friends, and so many smiling faces of players that hadn’t seen each other since the 1960’s. Trying to contact well over 500 alumni players was a daunting task but email and networking has made communication much more effective, and attendance over the past few events has improved accordingly. Rugby is a very unique and team oriented sport that creates unparalleled camaraderie. There is no individualism in rugby; when a person scores, we all know he could not have done it without the rest of the team putting him into that position. Rugby friends are friends for life, and many end up serving in each other’s weddings, becoming business partners, etc. I think the uniquely long-term friendships stem from the fact that your teammates on the field often put themselves into dangerous positions to protect you, even when you know they didn’t have to. It means a lot to know someone would do that for you.</p>
<p>Some of the ruggers from SLU’s first teams who attended were Art Graybill, (anyone else please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to have your name added). Several others expressed their regrets and vowed to make the next one, including one known as rocker Vince Vance of “Vince Vance and the Valiants”.</p>
<p>And some who have passed away and were fondly remembered were: </p>
<p>Bob Tuminello, </p>
<p>David Kinchen, </p>
<p>Joe Fox, </p>
<p>Some thoughts from attendees on what SLU Rugby and the friendships it has formed through 4 decades has meant to them are … </p>
<p>From Sonny Fontenot –
David Shepherd was my college biology professor who introduced me to rugby, got me excited about biology, and convinced me to go to graduate school. When I look back to what got me to this point in my life, if it were not for David Shepherd, I would not have become a Ph.D. in Biology, nor played rugby throughout the U.S., as well as in Bermuda, Scotland, France, and Italy.
<p>Mapp’s comments –
The alumni event was a wonderful weekend. It gave former players the opportunity to see teammates they haven’t seen in years. Many entertaining, funny, embarrassing and even disgusting stories were shared. Even some old rugby songs came out of the vault. Hank Ziller had a great set up at his house. There were scrapbooks and pictures from past through present.
The game was very well played and entertaining for the spectators. Afterwards the social at Sonny’s was a tremendous feast and a continuation of the night from Friday.
Rugby has influenced my life greatly. I joined the team midway through my second semester during the fall of ’97. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but the guys were encouraging. Through the years I have developed many strong friendships. I believe that if I didn’t join the rugby club I would have just gone to class and work, and probably would of became a fat ass. I made the right choice and played rugby, the greatest TEAM sport in the world. I still play rugby to this day. I’m still makin new friends and I still keep in touch with the old ones. I believe that everyone should experience rugby. (It just might change your life!)
I’m looking forward to the next event.
Jason Mapp </p>
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