Sidelined yet still spirited

On behalf of the Williams Rugby Football Club (WRFC), I would like to express our sincere apologies for the incident of April 9. That Thursday, after a rugby party, one player ignited the back of another player’s over shirt, causing a second-degree burn to the base of the hand of the person wearing the shirt. Although neither the club’s senior leadership nor I actually saw the incident, we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility. The shirt, as part of a years-old rugby practice, had been burned – albeit infrequently – in the past. And though the club’s leaders never officially condoned the practice, by staying silent we have unthinkingly placed past precedent above the safety of our teammates. We now face the consequences of a canceled season and a tainted reputation. But we will do so with the integrity and resolve we always seek to embody.

Believing the best disciplinary action to be corrective rather than punitive, the club’s senior leaders and I first argued that the College’s decision to suspend spring play would prove counterproductive. We contended that by canceling our season, the College would temporally terminate what Harry Sheehy, director of Athletics, rightfully called the “healthy” element of our club, leaving the social aspect of rugby – the side that has traditionally drawn criticism – untouched. We all agreed that there is a cancerous club practice that needed to be eliminated. We simply worried that the College had chosen to amputate the wrong arm.

However, due to inevitable delays in the appeal process with the rugby union, we have dropped our dispute of the sanction. Thus, we have no choice but to accept the consequences of our actions. Even if we had hoped to receive community service and social probation rather than athletic suspension, we agree with Dean Merrill that serious violations warrant serious discipline. But out of this strict sanction there is an opportunity to assert WRFC character. Bruce Stephenson, our coach for the past 13 years, has taught us to show our true colors in the toughest times.

Already this year, the club has responded to hard news. Upon hearing of the sudden death of Jonathan Siegelbaum ’95, we quickly raised $500 for his favorite charity and sent a signed ball to his family. Currently, we’re working on a fundraiser in memory of another recently fallen White Dawg. Though our season may be suspended, our commitment to our teammates, past and present, certainly isn’t. In times of tragedy, we are reminded of what it means to be a member of the WRFC family. And now, in a time of frustration and regret, we have the opportunity to reaffirm the strength of that family.

I don’t think I can possibly put into words how disappointed the team is to see its season come to a premature end, and how devastated the seniors are, who will never compete for the WRFC again. When I first joined the club, I had no conception of the incredible bonds we would forge; I didn’t even know how to play the game. But on our pitch, friendships form fast. I’ve broken my collar bone twice in the last year, but still can’t imagine anything better than putting on the WRFC claret and gold and risking it all again with 14 of my best friends. When we link up, arm-in-arm, before and after every game and practice, look one another in the eye and sing our team song, one thing becomes very clear: there’s nothing else at Williams like the WRFC.

It’s unfortunate that the axe should fall on a group that has overseen such dramatic and productive change in the club. Clearly, we have work to do, but the strides we’ve made bode well for continued improvement. Building on last year’s efforts, when the WRFC brought in 250 alumni for its 50th anniversary celebration, this year’s leadership has actively sought to further improve the club’s standing at the College. In years past the rugby team was a fixture in Campus Safety and Security reports; this year, until now, we had remained remarkably inconspicuous. At the beginning of the year, I even told Dave Boyer when and where our parties typically took place – we made no efforts to hide, in a justified belief that Security had no intention to persecute.

Our honesty in the disciplinary proceedings so far reflects this respect for College authorities. In our recent discussions with Dean Merrill, we were forthcoming with information. And the student who sustained the burn did not hide the cause of his injuries from the staff at the Health Center. As it turns out, a simple lie may have saved our spring season. But in an effort to avoid frustrating speculation, we turn to a heartening fact: even if we can’t take pride in some of our actions, at least we can take pride in our honesty.

We sincerely hope that, in spite of our serious faults, the College can yet take some pride in the WRFC as well. Although missteps have been made, the positive strides of the club will outpace them. Unable to take to the pitch for our final season, this strong class of seniors can nevertheless bring our better angels to the fore. And with typical character, we can remind the College why generations of Williams men are proud to call themselves White Dawgs.

Kevin Waite ’09 is a history and English major from Pasadena, Calif.