A few broken bones don’t phase Ruggers | AspenTimes.com

A few broken bones don’t phase Ruggers

Joel Stonington

A few broken noses, a torn hamstring or two, a couple of sprained ankles, oh yeah, and a LaForte facial fracture – the bottom two thirds of the face – a whole bunch of bruises and cuts, that’s an average Ruggerfest injury list. “It’s a rough game, as you can see,” says one of the old boys of Aspen rugby, George Newell, looking at a player clutching his arm on the sideline. “Among doctors, working the emergency room at the hospital is just about the least desirable job during Ruggerfest.”

Okay, so people get a little beat up when out on the pitch at Aspen’s annual rugby tournament. Doesn’t matter so much. Because Ruggerfest is all about the people, the rivalries, the beers after the match, about playing hard and about coming back, year after year. “This is the highlight of my year, every year,” said Tom Coburn, a referee from Ft. Collins who officiated the final between Aspen and Denver. “The fun part is the atmosphere.”The referees for Ruggerfest are all volunteers and the guys on the field treat them with respect. “We do it because we love the game,” said Coburn. “Best view in the house is from the middle of the field.” In what other game are the referees just as passionate as the players? “They are dedicated and honorable men,” said Billy Tomb, who sometimes works the sidelines when he can take time off from being Pitkin County jail supervisor. “The players have total respect for the referees and that’s what you need to know.”

It’s a gentlemen’s game, for the most part. Sure, you’ll hear some yells from the sidelines, “c’mon ref,” but it’s all in good fun. A punch or two might get thrown in the game and there’ll be some cleats on arms and faces but after a fierce battle on the pitch everyone can go get a drink together. And the next year, the game can be just as rowdy.Though, maybe not quite so friendly with Denver. This year, as with nearly every year, Ruggerfest was the site for the biggest rugby rivalry in Aspen: the Denver Barbarians and the Gentlemen of Aspen. The final match this year featured the big rivalry again, with the sidelines packed. “Everyone hates the Barbarians,” said one of the older gentleman who just watches these days, “we just hate them the most.”Then he laughed. Hey, just because it’s a rivalry doesn’t mean he’s not going to give a Barbo a big bear hug when he sees him. The older guys know all the other old guys and at that point it’s the history that matters.

“I played for the Barbos forever,” said Matt McConville, of Denver. “We had some epic matches against Aspen. I love it here. I proposed to my wife and she said ‘yes’ here. My kids were conceived here. Their birthdays are June 17th and June 19th.”All the old gentlemen were here this week, the guys who played in ’71, who played in ’82. Guys like Jeff Aldred who has played in every Ruggerfest starting in 1968 – they just keep coming back. “I’ve been coming here since 1978,” said Ed O’Rourke, from Minneapolis, Minn. “Ruggerfest is my mistress.” Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com

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