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A Stab at SFRFC History
by Dave Wheelock

Table of Contents

 1 )   Prelude
 2 )   Before There Were Santos - the Early Years
 3 )   Santos In Red Shorts
 4 )   El Puncho RFC and the First Championship
 5 )   Road Games
 6 )   Tournaments
 7 )   The Outside World Comes to Call
 8 )   Fields – A Perennial Problem
 9 )   England Tour and Legitimacy
10)   Turkey Trot


Prelude

It becomes evident in a long session that as soon as one chapter is written, two more come to mind, testifying to the exploits and misdeeds of even more members. They are all important, and so I appeal to the membership to read and respond with relevant additions and corrections. Wouldn’t it be grand (and a life’s work) to have an underlined link to many of these names and stories, with pertinent and interesting information about each?


This October (2000) I was asked by SFRFC icon and webmeister Chic Kelty for a history of the Club, presumably for use on our webpage. Chic and I were prowling the touchline as the Brujo fixture wound down, anxious to see if the boys would cover the spread. The Brujos had arrived with 12 players, and with help from Marcos Barela, who magnanimously agreed to whore out for the visitors, were bravely getting creamed by the Santos, who although at kickoff fielded only the minimum number, were now freely ferrying in a host of late-comers. Tch, tch, gentlemen!

And so, although I would much rather be regaling you with details of my own semi-triumphant return debut for the red & gold (locking with Eric – a sure path to humility for an otherwise big guy), I will make a stab at this important mission. I am counting on others to kick in with details and whole chapters I will overlook, or have just plain forgotten.

During my tortured journey to a B.A. in history, my favorite history prof was the one who downplayed the importance of detailed dates in favor of factors and trends. Even then I displayed peekaboo signs of creeping Altzheimer’s, although at the time the term was unknown. I write in the first person to impress that this bit of mumbling is from my own memory, and not to be taken as gospel.



Before There Were Santos - the Early Years

My earliest recollection of the SFRC (the “football” part crept in later) was at lunch. In 1971 or -72, home during a break from college, I went for lunch with Mom and Dad to the Green Onion, then located in the bowling alley on Cordova Road. Even in these early days the owner and resident American Irishman, Bill Dawson, was a rugby supporter. I remember seeing a clipping from the New Mexican on the wall, reporting the local lads’ success over the UNM team, and can still see in my mind’s eye the accompanying game photo of Patrick Whelan, in a customary flyhalf pose. (For critical history on the earliest days of SFRFC, consult John “Rocky” Aragon, who had a hand in the club’s birth.)

My next encounter with Santa Fe was a semester or two after, in my first-ever runout, playing for UNM in a preseason “scrimmage” at Ashbaugh Park in fall 1972. Neither team had a nickname; I guess nobody thought that far ahead. Santa Fe wore a more muted version of the current hoop design, more like an amber
and deep red, as I remember.

I cannot remember who won that game but it was incredibly enough “broadcast” on an early public TV access channel. Appearing for Santa Fe that day were the aforementioned Mr. Whelan, prop Buck Cuddy (SF had lawyers from the get-go), and Scotsman Hugh Casey, currently residing in Los Alamos. Undoubtedly also playing was lock forward Bill McLucas. I cannot remember whether the notorious Woody Hickox was with the club in those days. It is notable, too, that our UNM team included Jack “Duke” Donnell, Hans Paap (Hans Waight in those days) and Rocky Aragon, if I am not mistaken. Noted photographer Mark Nohl served as hooker for Santa Fe. Peter Seitz, if not with Santa Fe that day, began his tenure in SF soon after. After the match we followed the SF boys up to La Posada, where they had reserved a small back room off the bar. I remember Buck Cuddy standing on a bonco (sp), leading songs and spilling beer. I was, as they say, hooked.

About 1974 Santa Fe reached its first critical mass with the temporary inclusion of center Rick Zerbie of the Boston RFC and lock Chris Vale (same club?).
These guys were big, hard men, of a higher standard than the rest of the team, although Santa Fe had a strong all-around side. They came down and won the High Desert Classic, played on UNM’s Johnson Field. Jack Donnell played wing, and I think Hans may have hooked. Indian Health Service physician Fred Pintz hooked.

Santa Fe’s fortunes took a nosedive, though, as several of her trophy players left almost simultaneously. Zerbie had gone on to the Aardvarks


I joined SFRFC in autumn of 1975., and Vale was gone, as were so many other of the stalwarts. And we were woeful. Memory serves this period poorly, but it must have been like any other club that loses a lot. Practice a little, drink a lot.

Around this time the Dawsons moved the Green Onion to its current location, and the ruggers followed. I remember mysterious multiplying pitchers, popcorn everywhere, irascible-but-fatherly old Bill, and Jack’s deftness in juggling player selections. ‘Chicken salad from chickenshit’ was never so apt an expression.
The few of us bent over the table after practices split up club responsibilities; Jack president, myself player-coach, and so on. Player subscriptions were $10.

Somewhere around the late 1970s El Paso beat us something like 70-0 down there. The reason I remember this is that I believe it was a watershed experience for us. We were investing considerable energies into our little club, and must have made an unconscious decision to get better. Someone convinced Rocky to give up beating everyone else with the all-powerful Aardvarks and join us, and we got better with him at #8. Some months later we landed Robbie Day, the Albuqerque club’s hot, hot scrumhalf, and from Denver’s Queen City and Durango we landed a top-flight hooker, the One and Only Gentleman Jim Simms. We were on our way toward repectability. These guys brought a real winner’s attitude to the Club, and it brought everyone else’s level up a notch.

Several of SFRFC’s immortals got their start or joined SFRFC from other clubs in the late 70s-early 80s. With apologies for inaccuracies, then: Chic Kelty (unbeatable prop); John “Kormi” Kormanik (at prop, our most “popular” player)
Mark Donatelli (VLL – very large lock); Larry Smith (center cum lock); the locally-grown Kid Centers ~ Richard Stump and James Oellien; Kenny Brooks (aka Benny Krooks, older center); fiery winger Joel Medina, local hero Chuck Romero (center); St. John’s College whiz kids ~ fullback Joe Lennihan, natural wing Tim Turk, and scrumhalf Jay Friedmann. A UNM teammate of mine, Louie Martinez, was a stalwart from his fullback position. I remember only three players from College of Santa Fe, but two became legends: skinny winger (!) Mike Lewis (who became a dominant loosehead prop!) and skinnier winger Charles V. Puglisi. Kenny Brooks was an architect, Smith and Donatelli lawyers. Soon they were joined by Donatelli’s protégé from the public defender’s office, Peter Schoenburg, a high-leaping lock from New York and Yale’s gridiron program. John Hosemann, an ex-army tank squadron commander, looked the part, and went from center to flanker with explosive dividends for the Club. From Aspen RFC came Jim Mokres, a rangy wing-cum-back five man instantly dubbed “Ichabod” by Mr. Romero. Seemingly serious to a fault, Mr. Mokres slowly allowed his humanity to reveal itself, adding greatly to the Club mix.

Another longstanding Club institution with origins in this period was the one-and-only Carl “Carl Baby” Ortega. A couple of chapters could and should be written about Mr. Ortega, but suffice to say Carl has been both THE outstanding front row player in SFRFC history, and arguably THE subject of more stories and legend than any other Santo, period. Gifted with outrageous athletic abilities for his . . . er, appearance (he wrestled at Arizona State), Carl has had a habit of constantly turning up the opportune spot to make the big play. Off-field, well, there is only one Carl Baby.

And, somewhere in this era, Shannon R. Robinson limped out onto our practice field, his knees already creaking. A little later, I believe, came John “Mac” MacDermott, a punishing #8, as well as local Marine reservist Jaime Bustos, a potent flanker, and his late brother Juan.

NM rugby legend Herb Howell, a scrumhalf forced from the game through injury, was never far from rugby proceedings in northern New Mexico, and in the early 80s agreed to serve as Santa Fe’s fulltime coach. Herb brought an organized approach to training sessions (the first rugby man in NM to carry a briefcase) which imparted confidence and a sense of purpose to team members.

The aforementioned Mr. Robinson also had a big impact on the Club. One weekend he herded us all into a classroom (College of SF?) and programmed us to No Fault Rugby, which would become our working axiom throughout the first Golden Era of Santa Fe Rugby. The roots of our rare, cooperative on-field nature can trace its roots back to this weekend long ago.

About 1982 a round-faced, barrel-chested dentist appeared at the Winter Banquet in Lamy and declared he was one shithot rugby player from the Chicago Lions. I remember one of us (Donatelli?) remarking aside, “if he’s half as good as he says he is, we’re in luck.”

The fun guy with the big mouth (not the last for the Club) was Mark Lyon, DDS, and he was more than half as good as he said. Not in defense, mind you, but that was all we could tease him about as he gave us backline vision, pinpoint punts, and points from midway for years to come.

When it rains it pours, and soon afterward the Club was gifted through the migration of Ava and Richard Morris to Santa Fe. Richard of the long beard had played for national contenders Norfolk Blues of Virginia, and Ava knew several songs herself. It soon became evident that from his flanker position, or anywhere else, the Feral Child was the best all-around player the Club had ever seen. No one else could take control of a match single-handedly, which he did with amazing consistency. Richard toured Scotland with the Western Rugby Union, and captained one match.

In his quest for a national team position, Richard hired a personal Olympic lifting trainer, and soon enough lured him out for the team. Joaquin Chavez started dutifully at wing before moving to center and eventually, after his own intensive lifting program, prop. His mobile, athletic style gave the front row a real advantage in loose play.

The only thing better than one Morris is three and so the Club’s prayers were answered around this time by the arrival of brothers Eric and Mike from eastern Texas. The boys talked a little funny but soon made converts of us all with their spirited play. Mike had more size and experience, and proved a capable flanker, scrumhalf, and whatever else the Club needed on a particular day.

Chuck Romero, after laboring for some years in a modestly-successful backline, moved to flanker with the retirement of John Hosemann, and immediately became an impact player, famous for relentless pursuit, crunching tackles, and athletic leaping ability. When Chuck was named to the U.S. Western team, Santa Fe’s mayor proclaimed it “Chuck Romero Day” in honor of a local man made good.

Santa Fe now had all the elements of a potent forward pack, with strength, weight, and stability in the front five, a superior lineout with Schoenburg at #2, and outstanding support, ball-winning, and handling skills in the back row. Above all, though, was the understanding between the players through dedicated practice and game experience. Allied with a ironclad backline defense, Santa Fe RFC was a heady team for which to play.

And from Santa Monica RFC came Charlie Jordan, he of the one-handed, “don’t try this at home, kiddees” scrum half pass. As sometimes coach, I tried briefly to get Charlie to pass properly, but soon saw the folly of my efforts, especially when it became obvious Charlie was actually a rugby Wizard, which became his nickname.

A latter-day hipster on a mission, Charlie was the ramrod for many of the Club’s off-field successes. Among his feathers as Club president were Springfest ‘86 (?), the Ruggers’ Cook-off, and most importantly, the tour of England, 1987. Along with his lovely squeeze Mary Sulima, Charlie served as club herbalist and onfield physio. He later went on to follow his dreams, and established the Dragon River Herbal company, still a going concern.



Santos in Red Shorts


I cannot remember when a number of us began to agitate for a nickname. Suffice to say after a short internal struggle the team came to precede matches with a hearty “Vivan los Santos!”

More difficult was the conversion to red shorts. A few of us were maturing in the early 80s and no longer found the customary white shorts very flattering. Through the quiet dissemination of the fact that the color white makes objects appear larger and therefore WIDER, we finally sidestepped the heated debate and stampeded the membership to the crimson.

For most of the period of the 1980s, the Club was marked by slow growth in numbers and remarkable stability of personnel. Although the Club had no scrum machine, the forwards’ familiarity with one another eventually gelled them into a potent unit. Not noted for its backline play due largely to the lack of a superior back leader (read, “foreigner”), Santa Fe developed a forward-oriented style of play, characterized by powerful scrummaging and back row moves, plentiful up and under (Garryowen) kicks expertly placed by Dr. Lyon, backs who could ruck and defend strongly, and finally a kicking boot in the Doctor who consistently punished those who couldn’t handle the pressure.

Santa Fe’s schedule in those days included the usual suspects of the Rio Grande Rugby Union, which over the years has included the Kirtland Air Force Base Nomads (the Gonads), Las Cruces Black Hog, early versions of Farmington and Portales RFCs, Durango Rhinos, and Holloman Air Force Base’s Desert Dogs. The balance of power in the Rio Grande Union shifted every two to four years, I estimate. In the mid-70s Albuquerque’s Aardvarks were on top of the heap, followed around the turn of the decade by El Paso, who then adopted the name Scorpions.



El Puncho RFC and the First Championship

From the beginning Santa Fe and El Paso did not see eye-to-eye. We said there was something in their water which made them cheap shot artists; they called us gay. There were some great rumbles in those days, but none fonder in my memory than the day Santa Fe finally took the Union crown at the SF Polo Grounds in 1983. (The reader may wish to skip the following paragraph in order to avoid its flavor of brazen self-aggrandizement.)

OK, you were warned. This day I was serving as captain, a role I enjoyed for several years with the Club. This beat the heck out of player-coach, which included responsibility for planning training sessions.

In a customarily physical match Santa Fe was trailing by five going into the final quarter. Finally our forwards began to wear the Scorps down through attacking pressure, but we could not finish. “El Puncho” was whistled for an infraction with five minutes left, and several of our warriors, onfield and off, shrieked for a hail-mary penalty play, which had not worked all day. The prop Pete Seitz was our kicker at the time, and with the mark within his range, I asked him to give us the three.

OK, three shameless paragraphs. To their credit the impatient Santos held their tongues as Pete lined up and nailed the kick. El Paso took their sweet time retrieving the ball and kicking off, and our boys set to work overcoming the two-point deficit. The momentum was now with us, and to my great satisfaction and relief Peter was soon given the chance to ice the match, which he calmly did.



Road Games

As well there were seasonal forays out of Union. Denver was a frequent destination, with matches versus Queen City, Highlanders, Boulder, Mile High, and Harlequins. In the heyday of the mid- to late- 80s we played Barbarians a few times, without ever beating them. About 1985, in a one-off with Aspen in Colorado, yours truly touched down a pushover try to go ahead with a scant two minutes remaining, for an apparent shock victory, only to have “the genius Hugh WhatsisIrishName”, as the announcer called it, pip us in the dying moments with a perfect chip kick.

Less frequently the Club traveled to Arizona. There were memorable trips to Phoenix where Mr. Donnell suffered an embarrassing accident, as well as a late fall trip to Flagstaff in the Executive, a whalelike vehicle rented the Club by a colleague of Dr. Seitz. Some may remember that on that trip Cowboy Bob became Cobweb Bob through a blow to the head received in the line of duty.



Tournaments

There were also tournament appearances, of course, the perennials being our own Santa Fe Fiesta Sevens (SF Fiestas used to be Labor Day weekend), High Desert Classic, and on occasion the Rio Grande Rugby Union championships, held in various venues. The Club also made occasional appearances in the Aspen Ruggerfest, with varying success.

It was the Santa Fe Sevens which finally provided our first tournament breakthrough, in 1979. That year the classic was played on both the St. John’s College and Santa Fe Prep fields. Aardvarks were the overwhelming champions, as they had in recent years advanced very highly in the fledgling national championships, and had not been beaten locally in sevens for years. Our team cruised through to the final with plentiful scoring by Stump and Oellien, and then stunned Albuquerque to steal the wooden ball. Rugby magazine published our smiling faces soon afterward, and the Club was off to the races.

A subsequent second-place finish at the LaBatt’s tournament in Denver (1980?) warmed us up for the team’s first fifteens tournament championship since the High Dirt in the early 1970s. Santa Fe was invited to the Nuke Iran Ruggerfest high in the Colorado Rockies and although the field wasn’t all that polished, ran everyone off while almost losing prize prop Woody Hickox, who decided to walk through the Moffat Railroad Tunnel –all nines miles of it –on his way back to the motel on the Saturday night. He made the paper, too.

Another popular annual was the Cowpie Classic in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, site of good-spirited rugby and many scenes of revelry. In 1982, with the tournament played in remote Oak Creek due to flooding in Steamboat(?) the Club played blinding rugby on Saturday only to be faced in the finals with the Church St. Barbarians, a touring side from Ohio which boasted one international wing and years of unbeaten status. Their mistake was overconfidence, and on Sunday the fired-up Santos spoiled Church Street’s trip. Robbie Day collapsed after a warrior’s performance, and the game videotape, produced by the Eagle’s father, fell into SFRFC archives. (It is in need of re-casetting if it can be found.)

On the wing for Santa Fe that day was a young David Kipnis, who within a few seasons had matured into a competent enough halfback to take the place of Rob Day, whose new business, San Francisco St. Bar and Grill, demanded much of his energies. In fact, by the time David left to see the world and play rugby in England in 1984, he was a five-foot-not-much monster at the position, combining catlike quickness, outstanding power, and uncanny decision-making with an unbreachable will. Kipnis joined Richard Morris on the U.S. Western Union team, and although he was in England when Richard toured Scotland with WRFU, he played with the U.S. Jewish team in the Maccabiah Games in Israel, against England, Israel, and South Africa, where the Americans captured the silver medal.

The Democracy Days Sevens in Breckenridge was a must each June, with the club usually doing well. The Ski Town Tournament was also a big hit each year. In those days ski town condos rented for a song, and the jacuzzi was always a popular day’s end sanctuary.

The Denver Sevens was the only national qualifier in those years, and attracted dozens of good teams. Santa Fe had good success at Denver, at least twice advancing to the semifinals. It was here, in the mud before the tournament HQ gazebo, that Mssrs. Robinson and Martinez got into an inexplicable knock-down, dragout which became the basis of pranks for years afterward.

The Boulder Area RuggerFest, or BARF, featured a strong field and good fun for several years. Santa Fe advanced to the final one year, but lost. One year Mr. Simms actually hitchhiked to Boulder and arrived to meet us at the Friday evening relaxer, nattily attired in trademark blazer and ascot, and sporting a fashionable walking cane. There he proceeded to show a few of us his mischievous yet innocent tricks, undertaken with total aplomb, involving several unwitting lasses.

The Santos successfully defended their Rio Grande crown in 1984, and once again traveled to Westerns in Dallas, where, once again, the Club went winless.

When the Santos finally surrendered the RGRFU crown, it was to the relatively young Albuquerque Brujos, who went on to their own fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s.



The Outside World Comes to Call

These were heady days for SFRFC. About 1984 an English team from the London area, Lensbury, contacted us to arrange a match as part of a Colorado tour. The home club went crazy with training and eventually swamped the tour-worn, sunstricken English party, but a nerve had been struck, and at a splendid patio dinner at Rancho de Chimayo in our guests’ honor, we vowed to, as Herb put it, “get out of town”.



Fields – A Perennial Problem

Over the years, and not necessarily in this order, the Club has been shuttled by the City Fathers amongst the following playing patches:

  • Ashbaugh Park
  • Mager’s Field
  • Patrick Smith Park (Canyon Rd. Park)
  • Alameda Park (proper name?)
  • Santa Fe Landfill (proper name?)
  • Armory Park (Camino Carlos Rey)
  • Ft. Marcy Park (formerly Mager’s Field)
  • Santa Fe Polo Grounds
  • Ashbaugh Park

Soccer was long the bane of rugby in the City Different, and squabbles were frequent but non-violent. Too, relations with the City’s Parks Department were marked by distrust on both sides; I don’t believe they thought we were for real, even after years of putting up with our shit.



England Tour and Legitimacy

But that all changed when SFRFC undertook their first overseas tour in 1986. The Club had undertaken mini-tours to San Diego each of the preceding two years, beating UCSD and San Diego State, and, in a little-known landmark, beating national contender Irvine Coast, skippered by USA Eagle captain Ed Burlingham. In 1985 Santa Fe lost 15-10 to perennial national champion Old Mission Beach Athletic Club in San Diego, in an amazing match.

Herb Howell did the overseas planning, I did some coaching, everyone raised money, and club president and resident free spirit Charlie Jordan pulled everything together, and in March 1986 the Santos, including six wives –slash- girlfriends found themselves in soggy old England on a four-match tour.

But before we left, the Club took care to capitalize in every way on its venture. Mayor Joseph Valdez signed a plaque proclaiming Santa Fe Santo Day, carefully ghosted by an SFRFC hand, and the City sent along blessings and laminated posters suitable for framing for each community we were to visit. The New Mexican chipped in with a feature story, a large Bon Voyage fundraising dance was staged, and the city’s parks director showed up at a training session at Ashbaugh Park, not to shoo us off, but to shake hands and wish us Good Luck!

And Nambe Mills made one of their first donations of engraved plaques, one for each clubhouse we would be welcomed into.

Santa Fe went 1-2 in England, narrowly winning our first match with Lensbury, who showed us a stronger hand this time around. Joel Medina, Chuck Romero, and Javier Barrone finished a length-of-field movement at the top of the proceedings to set the pace. The match was played on the grounds of the incredible stately mansion that is the Lensbury Club, a huge and ornate private facility situated literally on the River Thames, and funded through the profits of Shell Oil. (The Lensbury Club served as headquarters for the USA Eagles team on their British tour of 1999, but of course it was still not the same since the Santos passed through.)

The Santos went on to the mysterious west country to take a 40-6 hiding from Lauceston, the Cornish All Blacks who spring from a primeval pastoral existence, in those recent days at least, far from the pressures of modern life. The inspiration for this wonderful detour was to bring the Club to one of its first and favorite foreign sons, young Martyn Sandercock of Launceston. What a man he was and undoubtedly is, tough, honest, straightforward, and full of Cornish country charm.

The tour’s third match was back in Greater London, where Santos dropped a rain-whipped match to a Cheshunt RFC fifteen on a field with a greater slope than we had yet seen.

The final stop on tour was to Warlingham Rugby Club in Surrey, where waited our own David Kipnis, and where I had briefly played the year before. This was an old boys’ friendly, and one of our younger opponents set the mood as he took the field sporting an American gridiron helmet. It was in this match that Larry Smith demonstrated how not to knock on a scrumhalf’s pass by letting it bounce off his chest, and 60-something Lee Hirst scored a try, courtesy of John Hosemann.

During these heydays of the 1980s all these clubs save Launceston came to Santa Fe to play. Always ensued a great celebration of rugby, and everyone in Santa Fe knew the Santos had special guests. Other foreign opponents which come to the feeble mind are Cowra, Australia, a good young team whom we narrowly beat at Aspen Ruggerfest, and years before that an Irish Aerlingus Airline team narrowly defeated at Denver 7s. I remember they passed out genuine Aerlingus keychains, which became a treasured item in those innocent days.

Foreign players too numerous to list have sweated, bled, and cursed alongside us over the years. Among the more memorable and long-playing of these men are: Pascal Yvon, France; Blair Fuller, Australia; John Coady, Ireland, Ian (Spuds) Skilton, England; Brendan Morris, Australia; Albert De Reuss, New Zealand; Murray (“ah, Murray”), New Zealand; Rob (Robbo) Thomson (With No ‘P’), New Zealand; Scott McLeod, New Zealand; Martyn Sandercock, Cornwall; and our own Brett Derwin, New Zealand.

Contributing to the special aura of the Club in the 1980s was the solid schedule of extracurriculars. The Santo Rugby Golf Open/Invitational/Classic enjoyed a consecutive run of at least 16 years under Dave Wheelock in honor of his parents, Irene and Martin who, after a protracted period of confused ambivalence toward The Game and its denizens, became staunch and loyal Santo supporters and friends. Both now smile on Santo golfers wherever they may wander.

Carl Ortega conceived and organized Uncle Carl’s Nordic Cross Country Ski Trip, an annual weekend in Chama’s winter wonderland. Jim Mokres organized the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Bowlathon team every year, and the Club staged an Easter Egg hunt for Santa Fe’s kiddees to coincide with Springfest 198?, a community event celebrating the visit of an English (Cheshunt?) team. And once, and once only, the Club had a Santo Cook-off for men only at the Kelty residence, an event to which the New Mexican sent its food editor, camera in tow.



Turkey Trot

Over the years many people, women and men, have poured their energies unselfishly into the Santo stewpot. Their contributions may not have sprung to one man’s mind here. Nevertheless their spirits are felt still, whether they are far away or even gone to another realm, whenever the red and gold jerseys are filled with humanity and our hands come together in celebration of The Game They Play in Heaven.



Content Donated by:  Dave Wheelock (11/13/00)
Season(s):  19xx-19xx


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