Rugby team continues battle for clubhouse

by Valerie Silverman | 5/15/03 5:00am

The men's and women's rugby teams have been teased with the prospect of a clubhouse for over two decades. While several proposals for clubhouses have been approved for different sites in the area, both teams still lack this important structure.

The Lebanon planning board plans to hold a vote at the end of June on the approval of a rugby clubhouse on Sachem field, the teams' home field, which is located right over the border of Lebanon and Hanover.

While approval by the planning board would mark the end of the planning process prior to the actual construction of the clubhouse, doubts still remain among members of the Rugby Board of Governors, as well as members of both teams as to whether the teams will win approval from the town. "It's not a slam dunk," said Richard Akerboom '80, a former member of the rugby team and active member of the Board of Governors.

Christine Coldiron '03, captain of the Women's rugby club, is less hopeful. "They don't want us there, period," she said.

"A clubhouse was supposed to be built my freshman year," said Dave Hodapp '04, one of next year's men's captains. "I've decided that it's not going to happen while I'm here."

Without a clubhouse, the teams lack locker rooms, showers, coaches' offices and training rooms. Also important to the rugby tradition is hosting the visiting team for both practical reasons and social gatherings, and without a clubhouse the teams turn to fraternities and sororities to host such events as barbecues.

For such gatherings, all responsibility goes to the fraternity hosting the other team. "We don't want to have to put the fraternity in that position all the time," said Hodapp.

The process of seeking approval for a clubhouse has been long and drawn-out.

In 1970, Corey Ford, a sports writer, bequeathed his house to the rugby team, which was subsequently sold and turned into an endowment for a rugby clubhouse.

In the early '90s, the rugby club began an active fundraising campaign among alumni and other benefactors "to raise enough money to build some kind of reasonable clubhouse," Akerboom said. By 1997, all the necessary money was at hand.

Then, in the fall of 2000, three days before construction was slated to begin for the clubhouse on Garripay Field next to the Dartmouth Daycare Center, the project was put to a halt. A deal between the Town of Hanover and the Hanover School District proposed swapping the land of Hanover High and Middle Schools in exchange for the Garripay fields and close to 20 million dollars, according to Akerboom. The school district would then relocate to Garripay field, freeing up the land on Lebanon Street for the College.

The rugby team was caught in the middle of the deal and left empty-handed.

"We decided that we would rather have the clubhouse at Sachem, which is the home of rugby since the mid 1960s," said Akerboom. "We never quite understood why we couldn't build there in the first place."

Although the College is supportive of moving the project forward, according to Akerboom and members of both the men and women's teams, it is really the Facilities Planning Office and the Dartmouth real estate office that handle the land that Dartmouth owns.

The new proposal for a clubhouse on Sachem, awaiting the vote by the planning board, also includes renovations on graduate student housing and other changes to make the deal more appealing to the board.

Some members of the team say that negative perceptions of the team as well as aversion to construction in one's backyard may be a cause of local opposition to the clubhouse.

"People are very phobic of the alcoholic history and stereotypes associated with rugby. As a club, we've really professionalized a lot -- almost anyone you talk to will tell you that," said Coldiron.

"The clubhouse would not be rowdy in the least," said Akerboom. "It would be like every other Dartmouth athletic facility."

The teams would not only reap the benefits of the physical structure itself, but would also now have a place to display the history of the teams, such as trophies and jerseys they have acquired over the years.

"We go on tour every year and exchange stuff with other teams," said Hodapp. "We have old, old memorabilia that's collecting in a garage, and there's nowhere to display it."

Both Coldiron and Hodapp lightheartedly referred to the ongoing quest for a clubhouse as "almost a joke" in its labyrinth-like progression.

"It's not something that anybody's particularly bitter about," said Coldiron. "It's just comical how little ground has been made."

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