Ruggerfest gets underway Thursday without former president Jerry Hatem
IF YOU GO...
What: Jerome Hatem Memorial Dinner
When: Thursday at 8:15 p.m.
Where: Mi Chola in Aspen
Why: The money will go toward a scholarship in Hatem’s name that will benefit the Junior GentsMore: https://aspen-ruggerfest.com/benefit-dinner-registration/
When the 52nd annual Ruggerfest tournament gets underway Thursday in Aspen, it won’t look that different from recent iterations. There will be burly men going for glory on the pitch, a smorgasbord of onlookers who may or may not have ever seen the game of rugby played, and an unrivaled party scene when the sun goes down (and often well before).
What will be missing from recent years is Jerome “Jerry” Hatem. Hatem, who had been the most recent Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club president and was a longtime Aspen fixture, died in a June snowmobiling accident on the backside of Aspen Mountain, where he lived. This year’s tournament will be as much about moving on as it is remembering one of the most selfless individuals in the rugby community.
“His passing was as much a temporary glue as his presence was a permanent glue for the club,” said longtime Aspen rugby coach and player Gary Williams. “It’s pulled everyone together. There is no doubt about it. There was definitely a feeling of increased camaraderie that’s not always been there with the club.”
The local rugby club has been operating over the past few months without a real leader, coming together as a group to keep things moving forward. Hatem, who was originally from Ohio, moved to Colorado in the early 1980s and soon found a home with the Gents despite having never played rugby prior. Since then, he’d been an integral part of the Aspen rugby community.
A group of six, including two of Hatem’s brothers, will be in Aspen this weekend to help celebrate and memorialize Jerry’s love for Aspen and for rugby.
“It was a shock. It was pretty tough,” said Jerry’s younger brother, Tom Hatem. “The feeling is weird due to the fact that he lived in Aspen and we only saw him on occasion. So it’s kind of like you are going to see him on that next visit. He’ll be here at the next celebration.”
Part of the way Hatem will be remembered is through the creation of a new scholarship in his name. That scholarship will be for the Junior Gents — the de facto high school rugby team — to help send a member of the team to college who needs the financial support.
“I don’t think it’s going to go away. Jerry will always be part of Ruggerfest,” said Ed Cross, another longtime Aspen rugby fixture. “His memory will be enriched continuously going forward.”
There will be an event Thursday evening at Mi Chola in Aspen to help launch the scholarship. Entry is $75 (or $100 with a commemorative T-shirt) and includes drinks and appetizers. All the money goes toward the Junior Gents. The event starts around 8:15 p.m.
“We are headed out there because the community out there has been so supportive,” Tom Hatem said, “and I thought it was almost our duty to make sure we make an appearance on behalf of the Hatem side because of all the good this scholarship is trying to support.”
The tournament itself gets underway Thursday morning with the men’s 55s and 45s divisions. The 35s and 50s will compete on Friday, while the men’s and women’s open divisions get underway on Saturday. The finals for all divisions will be held on Sunday at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. Some games also will be played at Rio Grande Park throughout the week.
The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club is the defending Ruggerfest champion in the men’s open division.
“It will be poignant, but it will be fun,” Williams said of Ruggerfest without Hatem. “It’s right to not have this as a Jerry memorial, front and center. Because it’s all pervasive amongst it anyway.”
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Those opting for the spring, like Aspen and Basalt, will begin football practice Feb. 25 and start playing games March 11.