Fall In Aspen Doesn’t Only Bring Yellow Leaves; It Also Bring Rugby!

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It was 1985. Aspen Mountain was covered in a sea of golden, yellow Aspen trees. Strong winds were blowing a huge white cloud towards the town of Aspen and the temperature was dropping by the minute. A huge crowd watched Aspen’s rugby team, the Gentlemen of Aspen, play the final match of Ruggerfest at Wagner Park. During a scrum snow started falling. At first the snow is slow and soft and then it became fast and hard. Eventually, the Gentlemen of Aspen are playing rugby in a full blown blizzard. It snowed over six inches, and the Gentlemen of Aspen won their first, out of over 20, Ruggerfests.
Aspen Ruggerfest is a huge rugby tournament held in Aspen every fall since 1967. In 1967, the first year of Ruggerfest, the teams were all mixed ages, but now there are multiple divisions for ages, and two women’s divisions. This year was the 50th anniversary of Aspen Ruggerfest making it the longest-running annual event in Aspen.
“Rugby is the best team sport ever and it is a way of life rather than a simple game,” David Guthrie, a longtime Aspen local, the former president of the Gentlemen of Aspen in 1975 and 1976, and this writer’s dad, said. “Rugby is like a very physical chess game and it really doesn’t ever stop play. It requires complex thinking combined with incredibly hard contact sometimes.”
In rugby the game starts with a scrum. A scrum is when eight players from each team grab onto each other in a huddle like manner and a ball is placed in the middle of them. The teams try to get the ball using only their feet. The “hooker” is a designated player who hooks the ball with his foot. The other team members all grab onto each other push their team towards the ball. In rugby a player can only pass sideways or backwards. Unlike football, when a player gets tackled they have to let go of the ball and the play is not stopped. The play continues as players from both teams fight for the ball. This can get very aggressive and dangerous, especially since rugby players do not wear any protection. (Helmets, pads, etc.)
Rugby, although extremely physical and competitive, is a gentlemen’s game, hence Aspen’s team name. At the end of each match the teams always shake hands, symbolizing leaving any hard feelings on the field. The hosting team usually throws a party with food and beverages for the visiting team.
Rugby is very popular internationally. There are teams all over the world that come to play in the Ruggerfest.
“Rugby unites countries internationally because with rugby you get to travel and see other cultures,” Mark Williams, an Aspen Local and rugby fanatic, said. Williams traveled all over the world, playing in two World Cups, representing the US team 37 times, and winning eight National Championships with the Gentlemen of Aspen. While traveling, Williams got to experience many different cultures and saw some traditions that stuck with him. His favorite memory was playing New Zealand. Before the game the teams came onto the field and the New Zealand team performed a dance very special to their culture.
“I was playing against New Zealand, who were the world champions, and facing the Haka, which is a traditional war dance. It was very intimidating but also got you really fired up to play them,” Williams said.
Ruggerfest has been an amazing Aspen tradition for many years, and hopefully for many more. Every fall thousands of people from all over the world come to watch this incredible tournament take place. Ruggerfest has not only brought teams together but has also brought the community of Aspen something to look forward to every fall as the leaves turn their beautiful shade of yellow.