Zach Piper, Contributing Writer
Jarryd Hayne, the former Australian Rugby League player, has been making headlines recently for joining the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League. The spotlight on Hayne has brought national recognition not only to his talents but the sport of rugby. Rugby has increased in popularity throughout the U.S., as it is being played in high schools and colleges alike. Oneonta’s own Men’s Rugby Club has seen an increase in popularity over the past few seasons. However, this was not always the case.
In 2008, SUNY Oneonta’s Student Association officially disbanded the club after several incidents of misconduct by previous members on campus and at places where the team traveled for away matches. The SA also placed a ruling that the club could not be reinstated until four years had passed to ensure that former team members would not be able to join again.
Following the four-year ban, a SUNY Oneonta student, Tom Connors, managed to get the club officially reinstated in Fall 2012. The now former president, along with a supporting cast of dedicated students, drafted a new constitution for the revitalized club stating that the new club will not be affiliated in any way with former rugby alumni. In addition, the club was instructed by the SA that any disruptive behavior or complaints from hotels and other teams would call for an immediate ten year suspension.
Current captain of the team, Shawn Gerard, stated that, “Starting it was a challenge and we had many obstacles to overcome, but we’ve come a long way.”
Despite the ramifications, the team held their first early morning practice in January 2013. With no coach and nearly all of the players having no prior rugby experience, the club went into their first scrimmage against Siena College in the Spring 2013. Oneonta started the match wearing plain white t-shirts with ‘ORFC’ (Oneonta Rugby Football Club) handwritten across the chest, as there was no formal funding from the SA. Regardless of their appearance and lack of a coach, Oneonta went on to shock Siena with their first win in over four years.
In Fall 2013, Oneonta began playing in the Tri-State Collegiate Rugby Conference in the Northeast division of the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO). After going 3-3 in their first season, the club went on to improve tremendously, eventually going undefeated in the 2014 season and becoming thedivisional champions. Following playoff contention, the team was ranked second in New York State and fourth in the Northeast, a vast improvement for a second year club.
“This program has the unique opportunity to succeed because we don’t have an American football team to compete with for athletes,” claims Gerard, “I’m proud to see where this club has gone and I hope for the future we can become a successful niche program with a unique brotherhood.”
While the team has clearly developed success on the field, the players have developed a special bond amongst their teammates. “This team has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” says Connors, “it makes it even better to see so many others have the same feelings about the team as I do. I’ve seen people become practically family as well as leaders of their peers while having fun at the same time, and that’s the best thing to see happen.”
Oneonta plays its’ first home match of the season on Sunday, September 27 against Drew College at 1 p.m. For those interested in playing, the team encourages anyone to attend their practices held on weekdays starting at 4 p.m at the intramural fields.
“I’d like to see the team win their division again,” says Connors, “and keep growing in players and fans in the coming years.”