SOCORRO, N.M., March 24, 2003 -- New Mexico Tech has not fielded an intercollegiate baseball, football, or basketball team since the late-1940s; however, rugby football has filled in its own special niche in the research university's student life, social life, and sporting life since the early 1970s.
"The rugby team at Tech gradually morphed over its 30-year existence from what was once more or less an underground group of students engaged in a lark to what is now a serious athletic endeavor," says New Mexico Tech rugby coach Dave Wheelock.
"While everyone knows rugby is a collision sport, it's remarkable how inclusive the game actually is," Wheelock relates,
"even for those of less-than-heroic stature. . . . And, although most Tech students never step onto the rugby field, there is quite clearly a widespread sense of pride at this school that we, 'the geeks,' have a competitive rugby team."
The New Mexico Tech Rugby Football Club's humble origins hark back to the efforts of former Tech students and ruggers Timothy Franklin and Hans Waight Paap, who in 1973 first began organizing and coaching the rag-tag team whose founding members would affectionately dub themselves the "Pygmies" because of their collective short stature.
"To this day, the Tech rugby club is always physically smaller than its opponents, whether they be college teams or club sides composed of older players," Wheelock asserts. "This unique feature of our club gives rise to the rallying cry, 'We do more with less!' and, I believe, accurately describes the prevailing attitude of all our players."
The rugby club at New Mexico Tech also to date remains a charter member of the Rio Grande Rugby Football Union, which was established in 1974; and, Tech Rugby Club members have continued to play fall and spring seasons ever since the union's inception.
In the 1990s, the Tech Rugby Football Club (RFC) established a well-earned reputation for itself in rugby circles as "giant killers," with memorable victories over nationally ranked college rugby teams, such as the U. S. Air Force Academy in 1994 and San Diego State in 1996.
In 1998, the New Mexico Tech rugby team undertook a playing tour of the British nation of Wales, winning one out of three matches, with a victory against the highly favored North Wales Under 19-year-old All Stars.
Last year, the Tech rugby club toured Ireland, again achieving the same win-loss record as its previous overseas tour with a dramatic final-possession triumph over a team from Trinity College Dublin, the oldest continuous rugby club in the world (established in 1854).
"No discussion of rugby's place at New Mexico Tech would be complete without mention of the club's active alumni roster, many of whom return every autumn during the school's infamous 49ers Days' to compete -- with varying levels of effectiveness -- in the students versus alumni rugby match, the so-called 'Black & Blue' match," Wheelock says.
"Dubbed the 'Ancestors,' this group of Tech alumni is kept abreast of the current rugby club's progress, and have even supplied supplemental players for the club's two overseas tours," he says.
In recognition of the club's 30-year record of athletic achievement and international goodwill, New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron has officially declared Saturday, March 29, as "New Mexico Tech Rugby Football Club Day" throughout the State of New Mexico.
The occasion will be observed on that day with a 12:45 p.m. presentation of the official decree on the Tech Athletic Field, just before the afternoon kickoff of New Mexico Tech's first home match of the spring rugby season, against perennial rivals Brujos RFC of Albuquerque.
"And, despite its newfound 'respectable' status, rugby at New Mexico Tech continues to afford our students a respite from the rigorous mental regime at this university and engage in something completely different, namely striving in the physical realm," Wheelock points out.
"And, of course, everyone knows the rugby guys and gals are some of the most fun-loving folks on campus," he adds.