Aspen rugby club honors president Jerome Hatem’s memory, defeats Steamboat
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Summer has officially begun as it’s rugby season in the mountain towns.
Steamboat fans packed bleachers and crowded under tarps on their lawn chairs, ready to drink cold beers and watch a storied rivalry game.
While the Gentlemen of Aspen already had one win under their belt, the Steamboat Fighting Bull Trout were opening their season at home in Whistler Park on Saturday.
But one thing was missing for the rugby community: longtime president of the Gentlemen of Aspen, Jerome Hatem, who died in a snowmobile accident earlier this month on Aspen Mountain. While this was Aspen’s loss, Steamboat felt it, too.
As a family, the rugby players stood in two lines while Tash Carns, a member of the Steamboat women’s rugby team, sang the National Anthem. A moment of silence was observed for Hatem, then the two teams came together shouting, “Three cheers for Jerry! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!”
“He was just a great man, a great president, a great coach, a great player, taken way too soon,” Steamboat coach Julian Bristow said. “That’s why we did the anthem today and the minute of silence because he deserves that.”
It gave the Gentlemen something to fight for, and they’d have to fight until the very end to notch a win over the Fighting Bull Trout, 20-15.
“Jerry is a legend of the club,” Aspen first-year coach Ben Mitchell said. “It’s great we were able to honor him in that way. It’s been huge. He did so much away from the eyes of the public, all the nitty gritty work around the club and he’ll be hugely missed over the summers.”
Steamboat notched the lead early in the first half off a penalty kick by Rob Schwarz to make it 3-0. The Bull Trout found themselves near the goal line twice early in the game, but lost possession to the Gentlemen.
“It was a couple of key moments where we let ourselves down by not kicking out to touch correctly, by not putting the pass into the hands correctly,” Bristow said. “We should’ve won that game. We owned the forward battle. Unfortunately, we got a little excited when we got the ball out to the backs and we missed an opportunity.”
The Gentlemen scored the first try of the game on their next possession, taking a 5-3 lead after missing the conversion kick. Steamboat’s Chris Baumann scored next to put the Bull Trout ahead 8-5.
The Gentlemen made one drive for a score in the final minutes of the first half, but the Bull Trout held them just inches behind the goal line to keep the edge. This was a common theme for the Gentlemen until the very end of the game.
“We need to work on basic rugby skills, decision making, being clinical, taking opportunities,” Mitchell said. “We were down there like five times and didn’t come away with a score, so hopefully over the next few weeks we’ll work on that.”
Steamboat kept its intensity going into the second half, scoring quickly on a breakaway run by Gabe Furnivall. Schwarz made the conversion points to solidify a 10-point lead, 15-5. Bristow notes that the forwards, like Furnivall, are a promising strength on the Bull Trout.
“They hunt as a pack, like a wolf pack,” Bristow said. “They need to dominate their opposition so the other eight guys opposing them, that’s what they are there to do. They did that in the scrum and in the line out, they did it in ruck and maul.”
The Gentlemen scored on a penalty kick to put them within seven of the Bull Trout, 15-8. Then, following a contentious call, the two teams swarmed the field in a fight. The dynamic shifted, and Aspen began to take control of the game.
Aspen’s James Kistner broke loose and scored shortly after, but Steamboat still held a 15-13 lead since the Gentlemen missed their second conversion kick of the game.
Donovan Ronan scored the final try for the Gentlemen with four minutes left in the game, and after failing to make the conversion kicks on the previous two tries, the Gentlemen solidified a 20-15 lead making their final kick.
Steamboat defeated Aspen in both of its meetings last year. Now, Aspen will look to even the score in the coming season.
“It was a bit of a messy performance, definitely some technical aspects of the game to work on,” Mitchell said. “But it shows a lot of grit and determination to pull it through at the end there after being down the whole game.”
Note: There will be a memorial held in Hatem’s honor beginning at 1 p.m. Monday on Aspen Mountain. A community reception will follow at Su Casa Restaurant in Aspen from 3 to 6 p.m.
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