By Emily Gold Boutilier
The sidelines were littered with coolers and a keg, but on the field, it was all business as rugby alumni faced current Amherst players.
Near the stands on Pratt Field, while aging rugby players changed their shirts and tied their shoes, Keith Handley ’89 introduced himself. “Call me Chud,” he insisted. “In rugby, that’s all anyone calls me.”
Handley, along with John McKenzie ’66 and Ashley Lunkenheimer ’96, had organized the men’s and women’s rugby matches that were soon to begin. The two matches would pit rugby alumni against current members of the Amherst club teams, all as a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of rugby at Amherst.
Rugby actually arrived at the college 52 years ago, when the late Preston Brown ’58 introduced the sport to his fellow students. But 1958 was when the Amherst Rugby Football Club completed its first official season. In 1981, the women’s team, founded by Beth Walker ’83, played its first match.
The anniversary celebration gave alumni the chance to reminisce and reunite—and verify their athletic chops. “I’m probably the oldest guy going to play today,” Handley boasted. “I’m looking forward to proving to everybody that I am a better rugby player now than I was when I left here.”
Then, spotting a friend, Handley interrupted himself. “Hey, Sully!” he shouted. “Hey, Chud!” came the reply.
The sidelines were littered with coolers, gym bags, sneakers and a keg of beer. Kids and dogs ran around on the lawn. Bob Hopley, who coached the men and women in the 1980s and 1990s and returned last season to coach men’s rugby, greeted former players, as did another former coach, Tony Neverson. Rebecca Muse-Orlinoff ’03 chatted with Duncan White ’03, who’d arrived “to see if I can still play rugby and not hurt myself.” Muse-Orlinoff was there strictly to socialize. “At 27,” she lamented, “I’m too much of a wimp to play. I’m not even sure I remember the rules.”
As the women’s match began, the spectators paid attention. (“Yeah! Good fake.” “Look at the redhead. This redhead’s good!”) It was the first time that Ian MacKenzie Sim ’64 had watched women’s rugby. When he played at Amherst, he said, the team lost only one game between 1961 and 1964.
In the end, the alumni women overpowered their more youthful opponents, winning 55-0. Christine Bader ’93 left the field sweaty but happy. “It was fun and invigorating for the first 10 minutes,” said Bader as she changed her shoes. “Then I got tackled and landed on my head. Then somebody stepped on my foot.”
For the men, strong defense on both sides kept the score relatively low. The final tally was 19-3, with the alumni victorious once again.
Freshly showered, 158 alumni, students and guests met that evening for a reception and dinner in LeFrak Gymnasium. Speakers talked about the Rugby Endowment Fund and reminisced about old times. Earlier, McKenzie and Sim had studied old copies of the Amherst Student and the Olio in an effort to compile a comprehensive history of Amherst rugby. At the dinner, McKenzie placed his research notes on each table so that party-goers could scribble their corrections and additions. In the fall, he plans to post the history on the Amherst rugby Web site.
Photos by Ben Barnhart