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A rugged experience

Oldest rugby club in America brings home First national championship

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Neglected by the Harvard Athletic Department, they went looking for respect.

They came home with the national championship.

And that changed quite a few minds, rather quickly.

The Harvard men's rugby club that had to finance its own way to the national championships in Monterey, Calif, last month, became Cambridge's springtime darlings.

People started to notice, the Athletic Department became more cooperative and the ruggers just looked for a place to put their championship trophy.

As a club, the rugby squad does not receive monetary support from the Harvard Athletic Department, and receives only limited administrative help.

But on the field--club or no club--the rugby team became one of Harvard's finest squads of the year. The season that started with a disappointing loss in the New England Championships in the fall ended seven months later with the only national crown won by a Harvard team this year.

The Crimson entered the Eastern qualifying tournament this spring as the wild card. A forfeit from Cortland State sent the ruggers into the Northeastern and on their way to stardom.

"That's where we really came to believe we had a good team," rugby President Charlie Weeks says of the Northeastern tourney.

It was a 13-6 upset of Boston University, the team that had ousted Harvard back in the fall, that really set things in motion.

An Ivy title the weekend after the Northeasterns was just the warmup, though, for a 39-3 shellacking of Florida State in the semifinals of the Eastern championships and a 9-3 victory over Virginia Tech in the finals.

With the ticket to the Final Four national championships in hand (by virtue of its Eastern crown), but no money to pay for it, the ruggers went up against their toughest opponent of the year: that old nemesis, the Athletic Department.

And after some last-minute deals, Harvard officials loaned each player $419 for the airfare. After that it was as easy as a 12-4 victory over the University of Colorado in the national finals.

It took the oldest rugby club in North America 112 years to cop its first title, but with the exposure of the nationals and increasing support from the Department of Athletics, club members hope the next crown will come a little sooner.

"Hopefully this kind of thing will feed on itself," Weeks says. "I really think it will snowball."

One thing the club has abandoned for the immediate future is its hopes for varsity status: "There are a lot of things that we'd have to give up that make rugby unique." Weeks says, citing infrequent practices, an open roster for all and alcohol on the sidelines during games.

And with the feelings of euphoria surrounding the ruggers' robbery of the title away from UC-Berkeley--which had won the first three titles since the national tourney was conceived--still in the air, the squad's initial feelings of neglect by the Athletic Department seem to be subsiding.

After the squad won the national title, the Athletic Department told team members they could arrange for extensions on their loans. Then, an anonymous donor sent varsity letter sweaters to the club through the Department.

"I'm really pleased with our new relationship with the Athletic Department. Weeks says, adding he believes the squad has finally earned the respect it so eagerly sought.

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