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Team History: The Exile's Legacy

Note: the following history was compiled from a wide variety of sources and is certainly very inaccurate... enjoy.

Every year as Hamilton’s varsity Continentals and wayward hippy Frisbee players strap on their cleats and head to the light side a strange and marginally disfigured group of short shorted, cleated athletes inflate their oddly shaped balls and walk the other way. These are the men of the Hamilton College Rugby Football Club heading to their home; Babbit and Minor Field. It is perhaps a coincidence that the rugby team, aside from women’s soccer is the only squad to practice regularly on the dark [south] side of campus, but it is oddly appropriate. Thus we are the Exiles, a rag tag group ranging from former varsity Hamilton athletes who have ‘defected to the dark side’ to high school soccer, hockey, football, lacrosse, curling, golf, wrestling, frisbee and cricket players. Though we come from diverse backgrounds one thing we all share in common is a rigorous commitment and genuine love for our team and what it stands for, that many of us would argue is unrivaled by any other athletic organization on campus.

A man who will stand his ground with the Exiles on the pitch be it during c-side drinkups, practice, b-side scrimmages, or first fifteen matches, is a man of courage and will quickly find himself embraced by the inherent fraternity the bloody reality of a rugby pitch breeds. This is not to say that the Exiles keep to themselves, far from it, Exiles are linked socially to a huge number of organizations on campus with ties waxing and waning based primarily on cross membership. Historically there have been strong alliances with the fraternity brothers of the college, as well as a number of acapella groups and service organizations with whom we participate in Make A Difference Day around the Utica area at the beginning of every fall season.

Exiles rugby began in 1066 when William the Conqueror contracted hooker and former captain ‘Uru the exile’ to conquer the islands of Britain, he was paid in fermented sheep’s milk and ever since that great day the Exiles battle wages are paied in fermented beverages of every stripe.  Following that great conquest much of our history has been lost and it is not for 911 years until 1977 when our record picks up again.

Beginning of Hamilton Rugby

In the spring of 1977 the hard work of two men, Mike Ricci '78 and Dave Knox, a visiting student from Scotland led to the reformation of the H.C.R.F.C [disbanded following the conquest of Britain]. Both men had been playing rugby in a local club based in Rome, NY and decided to petition the school to start a club at Hamilton. After a short amount of haggling (forever after a trademark Exiles skill) between the school and Mike, the club was authorized and signs for practice were placed around campus. 43 men showed up the first day, a great majority of them friends of Ricci's from DKE, and the club was born. Since few men knew the rules, things were strange the first couple of years, but nonetheless immensely fun and rewarding. Being the only "veterans", Ricci and Knox were driven to educate the less experienced players and often unfortunately forced to sing alone at the socials, setting themselves up in grand fashion to "shoot the boot."

The team competed and held its own in the then-fledgling Upstate Rugby Union, and by Spring 1980 had put together a club good enough to win the Upstates tournament. That same year, they beat a nationally ranked Cornell team which had an Eagle (Danny Wack) playing flyhalf (not sure they could have beat the Cornell women - the Thunder Thighs).

In the 80’s the H.C.R.F.C gained some of its first great players (though many would follow, to many to mention in a few page biography): scrumhalf and coach Tony Levitan '82, flanker and coach Brandon Nordin ’81, center Mark Bacon '82, and hooker Mike (Kinger) King ‘81.

Under their guidance, the HCRFC was on a roll and also took the first official Hamilton rugby spring break trip, soon to pass into the legends of the Exiles, when in the spring of 1981 fifteen ruggers, a few groupies and two winnebagos (and cases of gin and tonic) headed out for a southern tour that included an illustrious stop at Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, VA – the story of which cannot be written down for fear of embarrassment and potential incrimination of our alumni. For example, legend has it that immediately after the “Come – Rugby Players” dance held by the women of RMWC, one Winnebago headed out for Hilton Head – heretofore called the Loser-bago. Another Winnebago left the morning after the dance – heretofore called the Winner-bago. Rumor has it the all the backs were on the Loser-bago and the forwards owned the Winner-bago.

The team moved into its second phase in the mid-80's, as collegiate rugby became more popular at larger schools and divisions began to be set up to equalize play. The addition of the fall season and a consolidation of the leagues gave rugby a real grounding in upstate New York. The formation of the women's HCRFC in 1980 waylaid all "gender discrimination" fears and also doubled the fun of the socials, which were often held in the stairwells of South Dorm. About this time, another Hamilton legend Jim Burgette '87, appeared to fill the scrumhalf opening left behind by Levitan. Although the teams of the mid 80's did not fare as well as previous editions, because of the tremendous growth of the sport, they were still playing high caliber collegiate rugby and having a great time. However the inclusion of more and more big schools meant H.C.R.F.C was no longer able to compete with the biggest rugby schools, and Hamilton was moved into the lower tier of a two division state union.

The late 80's and early 90's saw a small decline in interest in rugby at Hamilton, and the team played through some average years. The lack of coverage by school media, combined with the complete indifference of the administration towards the team, led the team to a new level of ‘rugged individualism’, and games were moved down to Clinton High School for a number of years.

Rugby in the 90s

Around 1993, a new "crew" of men, led by Kris Kaplinski '95, took Hamilton Rugby to a new level, at least socially. As practices, games, and road trips became increasingly more "social" events, the team grew in size. Luckily, more social members means a bigger talent and athleticism pool, members were forced to earn their drink and eventually this translated into an improvement in quality of play.

Under the leadership of "Big" Jeff Michael '97 and later Dave Bolger '99 , the team flourished on the field. In fall 1996, the club name was changed from "Blues" to "Exiles", reflecting the anti-administration sentiment that pervaded the team (and the campus) at the time that unfortunately still remains to this day. Now competing in the Upstate D3 union, fall 1996 marked a large turning point.

Members of the class of 1999 and 2000 turned out for the team in droves, and for the first time in years, a full B-side was playing H.C.R.F.C rugby. This gave many young Ruggers valuable experience, and by fall 1997, the H.C.R.F.C had captured first place in the Excelsior Division as well as our first State Championship.

Even better, several key juniors, most notably Derek "the legend" Hazard '99, Adam Kelly '99, and Derek Brand '99, left the States in spring '97 and played abroad, gaining tremendous experience and beginning a highly valued Exiles player development tradition [known as the ‘Europeans know better’ technique]. Hazard returned to be, by far, the best scrumhalf in NYS Division III as well as a well-versed student of the game who could teach more advanced play. This paid off, as fall 1998 proved to be a pinnacle, as the H.C.R.F.C not only repeated as state champions, but also advanced to the finals of the northeast regional tournament before losing to Umass-Lowell 12-7.

A New Millennium

In the fall of 1999 the Exiles are raised a division for their continuous success and enter the millennium with a new challenge before them. Unfortunately the beginning of the 21st century proved rough for Hamilton rugby. A long and disheartening losing streak ensued, consistent ‘social victories’ being the only respite for the hardened men of the Exiles. The team fell into poor condition, going from being able to field a full B-side in ’97 to barely having enough men consistently at practice for a single side of players. This unfortunate trend continued with the team only surviving through the nurturing of a few virulently committed players until the fall of 2005 when in the final match of the season in devastating conditions the Exiles handed Colgate [a division above us] a resounding thumping, despite the traditionally questionable officiating of former Chicago lion and mad man of the rugby laws, transcender of stop watches, Tim Burdick. The party in Babbitt 17 [a traditional Exiles lair] was one for the ages.

The spring of that season the Exiles continued to turn things around, winning a few at the Mistake by the Lake [soon to become the mistake in the lake] tournament and making it through to the second day of the Rhode Island beast of the East before suffering a loss to Trinity college, quite a turnaround considering the previous year they had been defeated in the first match of that tournament 67-0 by Wesleyan.

The fall of 2006 was a fantastic season for the Exiles, captained by the horrifyingly red-haired Dillon Prime and his docile but violent ginger side kick, Jon-Jon Milgrom the Exiles recaptured the state championship for the third time, defeating Niagra university led by the dastardly captain America avenging their only regular season loss that fall. The Exiles advanced to the eastern regional tournament but suffered a defeat to Bentley in the finals, who went on to capture the DIII national championship.

That spring the Exiles organized a tough schedule facing many teams above their division and fairing well against all of them. At the Oswego greased weasel tournament the Exiles played 6 games in one day, and though losing in the finals, considered it a serious victory of endurance, having defeated Syracuse’s A side in the semi finals.

The 2007 Fall met the Exiles with great success.  With an impassioned squad of new and old ruggers, captains Jon Milgrom and Steve Rowe led the team to an undefeated regular fall season during which the Exiles outscored their opponents 340-3.  The squad continued on through the fall postseason defeating the University of Buffalo and Niagara to win the NYS D-III championship after which they defeated William Patterson to win a spot in the National Championship.  In the Spring of 2008, an excited crew missing many important members abroad was one of 4 teams to compete for the D-III title.  At our own Hamilton pitch, two days of intense rugby  took place.  Unfortunately, the enormous home crowd saw the Exiles lose both of their games, placing 4th in the tournament.  However, this national exposure marked a new era for the Hamilton club.

In Fall 2008 the HCRFC moved up to D-II.  However, this more competitive division was unable to slow the team down.  The ruggers led by captains Steve Rowe and Colden Prime, blew past their regular season opposition including a handsome defeat of Arch-rival Colgate.  In the postseason the Exiles butted heads with perennial D-II powerhouse, St. Bonaventure.  In 80 minutes of mud-soaked, bruise-filled, blood-bathed rugby the exiles lost a heartbreaking 5-7.  Alas, rejuvenation filled the air and the Exiles vowed to take the state title in 2009...

Ready to claim their rightful title, the Exiles started the Fall 2009 season on all the right notes. Showing initiative, the Exiles crawled back to campus a few days early for unprecedented and grueling preseason practices. Led to another undefeated regular season by captains Jack Dunn and Colden Prime, the Exiles were again a dominating force, snagging many hard-won victories against Plattsburgh, Colgate, and Oswego. Despite this record however, the Exiles were placed second under Buffalo for reasons yet to be understood. Undeterred, the Exiles went on to defeat Hobart in the D-II playoffs, and scored against Middlebury in their final game.

(Written in collaboration by Jack Dunn, Peter Lauro, and Alumni Matt Glassman and George Zippell)

 

 

Webmaster: Harry Lee (klee1@hamilton.edu) Site Last Updated: February 27th, 2013