Confusion aside, the masses support Gents

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A muddled understanding of the rules didn’t keep thousands of spectators away from Saturday’s USA Rugby National Championship game in Wagner Park.

The crowd wasn’t always sure what was happening on the field as the hometown favorites, the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club, won their sixth straight championship. However, a shaky grasp on game regulations – as well as 90-degree temperatures – couldn’t disperse the considerable crowd.

“What just happened?” one spectator asked a friend when an early Aspen interception was met with cheers from the ever-growing crowd. The friend, busy cheering with surrounding Gents fans, simply shrugged as he continued shouting.

Tucson, Ariz., resident Buck Brower admitted that he was “terrible” when it came to remembering rugby regulations. However, Brower – an Aspen business owner and resident for nearly 20 years before he left the area in 1993 – says the sport brings to mind one of his favorite, albeit bizarre, Aspen memories.

Claudine Longet, found guilty of criminal negligence in 1976 after the “accidental” shooting death of ski racer Spider Sabich, spent 30 days in Pitkin County Jail for her crime. The day she was released, she and a small group of friends bought a bottle of wine and retreated to a local park to allow Longet to enjoy her newfound freedom.

Brower was one of Longet’s companions that day. He said the group passed the wine bottle around and spent a beautiful afternoon watching a few locals play rugby.

“The day she got out of jail, we came over here and sat on a picnic table with a bottle of wine and watched the game,” he said. “It was one of the first rugby games I ever saw.”

Brower was back in Aspen this week enjoying a short vacation from his hectic job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Showing up for Saturday’s Gents game helped him track down a few old friends he had hoped to see during his brief stay in town.

“Beautiful weather, and this is where everyone sees their friends,” Brower said.

Gentlemen team trainer Joanne Davis – decked out in the lucky Gents jersey and shorts she wore during the team’s 1998 championship run – stood on the sidelines Saturday and cheered on her “boys” during their 34-23 win. Davis said she, too, had trouble picking up the game at first, but said she’s grown to become the team’s biggest fan since joining as the Gents’ “physio” in 1997.

“I didn’t know a thing about the sport, and now I’m in love with it,” she said.

The game turned out to be a draw not only for fans, but for Gents alumni. Davis reported that past players, some who were forced to leave the team due to its hectic traveling schedules, turned out Saturday to see the battle for their sport’s top prize take place in their hometown.

“Some of the guys that decided to give it up came back to play on their home field,” Davis said.

As a whistle blast heralded the end of Saturday’s game and another Gentlemen championship win, three of the team’s youngest fans contributed the loudest cheers. Keegan Morris, 12; his brother Conner, 9; and their friend Owen Bailey,10, turned out to show their support for retiring second row player Bo Buck, who was able to see his team collect its sixth championship trophy during his last game with the Gentlemen.

“We know his son,” Conner Bailey said. “And we wanted to show our respect.”

Buck, the trio’s favorite player for the team, was impressive in his last performance Saturday, the boys reported. And though they weren’t exactly sure about the play-by-play action that led to the Gents’ win, the game was successful in at least one area.

“It was really rough,” Bailey reported.