The competition is fierce but the camaraderie is what makes this game special. There is no age-out limit, but waivers must be signed and common sense or concerned spouses often prevail over who plays and who watches. Then there’s a Sore Man’s Lunch the next day for the survivors.
When Homecoming rolls around each fall at UNCG, one group of alumni – the Rugby Club – reunites for a match that goes back more than three decades to the club’s founding.
The ruggers’ big game is the annual Past vs. Present Rugby Match, and it’s a marquee event for Homecoming week, which runs Oct. 21-27 with activities for the entire UNCG community.
They come back every year, guys like Craig Head ’90, who teaches at Greensboro Day School and organized alumni weekend for many years, and Rugby Alumni President Jim Wilkie ’91. There are the LaMuraglia brothers — John ’86, Jamie ’85 and Pete ’86 — who won’t miss it. Some have expanded their club days to greater accomplishments. Ted Vaccaro ‘86, one of the best players in club history, is now president of the New York Athletic Club Rugby Football Club.
“It’s the best tradition we have,” Wilkie says. “It is a fantastic time. We try and make it the best weekend of the year for the current team. We usually have around 80-100 alumni participate in the festivities.”
Some “old timers” still play, but recent graduates make up the bulk of the team.
“We play to win,” John LaMuraglia said. “Anyone who wants to play can play and it’s left to one’s own judgment. I played my last game at the tender age of 47 only to be hit so hard I think I skipped 48!”
UNCG’s rugby club was founded in 1977, and for those unfamiliar with rugby, it can best be described as a rough sport — a combination of finesse, speed and brute force. One alumnus calls it “non-stop football without pads, helmets, blocking or a forward pass.”
When the first team was founded, there was a lot of enthusiasm and fellowship but not a high skill level. That’s changed. Today, UNCG’s squad draws student athletes nationally and internationally.
“That first game was interesting in that the fans had no idea what was happening,” recalls Bert Lamport ‘86, who helped bring rugby to UNCG. “But the hits were right in front of them and it was exciting. If I remember, we were allowed a keg on the sideline.”
Coach Chuck Wurl says the UNCG club team has a mostly American lineup, with a couple of Australians, and others from New Zealand, Northern Ireland and Germany. Few have zero exposure to the sport before they arrive at college. There are eight to 10 Americans who played the sport in high school before arriving at UNCG. The Spartans hosted the national college rugby championship this past May, and have won two in-state championships.
This year marks the 36th annual Past vs. Present. Surprisingly, the campus team has won the match only once, in 2010. The event is now an integral part of Homecoming and attracts 400 to 500 people, including alumni and current students.
Campus Recreation and the campus team organize the event. Alumni and students keep in touch through the year, and word spreads by social media, email invitation and through the UNCG alumni office.
But what does it mean to the alumni, to have an event each fall to which they can return and play?
John LaMuraglia sums it up: “Rugby was our fraternity, our sport, our social life and was instrumental in most of our ‘rites of passage.’ The match is played for a win by both sides and as a tradition, you have a beer afterward with the guy you were just butting heads with. It is one of the most fun weekends of the year.”
This year’s match will be played from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25, at the Campus Recreation field.
Story by Steve Gilliam, University Relations
Photography by Chris English, University Relations