Tom Tani C’78, with Chris Walsh C’80, at the Alumni Homecoming Weekend rugby match in 2006.
Tom Tani C’78, with Chris Walsh C’80, at the Alumni Homecoming Weekend rugby match in 2006.

Thoughts on a sport that doesn’t let you go.

By Tom Tani C’78

My wife, Christine, is amazed that wherever we go there is always somebody from my rugby world. Case in point: In 1995, we were shopping in Harrod’s in London. We were near the end of our trip and we still hadn’t seen anyone I knew. Christine said, “Well, at last we’re someplace where you don’t know anyone from rugby.”

As if on cue, a voice: “Hey, Tom!!” One of my friends from a New York rugby club who was home on holiday walked over. The look on Christine’s face was priceless.

Me and my fellow Drew Rugby Football Club (DRFC) alumni have found that rugby is a worldwide fraternity with no restrictions. If you’re a member, you’ll have a game anywhere if you look for it and friends around the world if you work at it. Plus, you can play as long as your body holds up—even if it means eventually fitting your shorts over a pair of Depends.

I’m the first to admit that my playing days at Drew were nothing to speak of, but by senior year, I was catching on and wanted to keep playing. When I graduated in 1978, alumni could still play with the club, so I stayed for one more year. Eventually, I joined the Montclair Rugby Football Club and played alongside fellow DRFC alumni, such as Bob Franks C’80 and Mickey Green C’79. A couple years later, I moved on to Monmouth RFC, eventually becoming president, a position I held for many years. With Monmouth, I discovered the joys of going on rugby tours around the country and to England, Ireland and the Bahamas. I’m still a member today. I remember in 1982, when I came back with Monmouth to play Drew in a match, how much my teammates enjoyed their visit to the Forest.

In the 1990s, I started refereeing. I loved it and (as my teammates loudly agree) was a better referee than a player. I was honored to eventually make the USA “Territorial” B panel and got to travel a bit, refereeing around the United States and even the UK. I also served as Referee Society president for our local union (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) for several years.

Drew rugby got us started, but post-Drew “club” rugby was truly our graduate school. Some of my best life lessons came from what I learned in the scrum. The most profound was “age and treachery beat youth and fitness.” That’s one reason alumni sides do so well in alumni games!

The Drew ruggers like me who still play are a bit like Peter Pan: “We don’t want to grow up.” Thanks to understanding spouses and kids, we don’t have to (well, most of the time). All DRFC alumni remember with pride one of our own, Bill Bernhard C’82, who went on to represent our country as a member of the Eagles, the USA National Rugby Team, in 1987.  Since graduation, I have played with (and refereed) still more Drew guys from my era, like Chris Walsh C’80, Mike Smith C’79, Kurt Hoffman C’78, Ralph Scoville C’81 and Tony Buttacavoli C’82. No matter where we go, I can count on always seeing them almost every year back at Drew, kitted up and ready to play in the annual alumni game.

At present, rugby happily takes a back seat to being a dad. My son Philip, who is 10 years old, played his third year of youth rugby this summer and loved it (my wife almost as much). I still ref men’s and U-19 (high school) matches. On more than one occasion a young player has said to me, “My dad said you used to referee (or play) with him!” I laugh at the passage of time.

Among the many things I’m thankful to Drew for was that it was where I discovered this wonderful game, which grabbed me and still hasn’t let go. Fate brought me full circle recently. I worked with some fellow alumni and the current Drew rugby clubs to make sure they had a home field to call their own. Who knows what memories a Drew rugger will write about years from now because of that?

—Drew Magazine, Winter 2009