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PSU Rugby Stories: David Labovitz '67

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David Labovitz ‘67  played rugby for over 28 years and loved every minute of it! He started his career as a hooker for PSU from Fall 1964 and graduated in Spring 1967 with B.A.s in English and History. He has toured all over the world playing rugby, including the Southern US with PSU,  the Bahamas and Jamaica  with Whitemarsh and in four Golden Oldies tournaments (London 1985, Auckland 1987, Toronto 1989 and Dublin 1993) with the "Lost Lions". He also had the honor of playing against first All Blacks old boys side ever fielded in Auckland! He is a charter member of Whitemarsh, Blackthorn, and Doylestown (played on only unbeaten side in first 42 years inaugural season) and played itinerant rugby in upper Midwest (Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota) with various sides. David became a PSU Rugby Lifetime Member PSURFC in 1994 and attends the reunion almost every year.

“First was the best birthday of my life, my 21st. Besides a notorious party that night at my apartment where somehow about 400 people managed to fit in, there was the half time rugby exhibition at the football game that afternoon (There is a picture from the program in Kabala Hall). We only had one set of matching jerseys so I had to make a trip home to borrow another (red) set from Philadelphia RFC. We were supposed to have someone in the press box to do the announcing, but when the appointed time came he was denied admittance. So we played without any explanatory commentary. At first the crowd of some 50,000 didn't know what to make of it but as we played on they got into it, so much so that there were actually boos from the crowd when the football team took the field for the second half. That was the introduction of rugby to the general Penn State population. And a day I will cherish ‘til I die.

Second has to do with how I came to play rugby in the first place. For some naive reason I thought Penn State had a lightweight (150 lb.) football team (like UPenn, Army, Navy, etc.). Not true. One of my fraternity pledge brothers was big enough to sit the football bench but didn't want to. I had seen a poster for the rugby club in the HUB but didn't know a lot about it, just some very basics. So I sent Steve to a practice. He came back and said, "This is great. You've gotta go next time.” So I did, and after one practice found myself in my first game against Philadelphia RFC at the old golf course. Philly had a back who had been a UK Olympic sprinter - like chasing a ghost. The one play I remember is Marshall Sturm, having completely missed a tackle, just somehow managing to tap the heel of the ball carrier's boot, causing it to cross his other foot and tripping him. I guess we learn to take our little successes wherever we find them. For me that was the beginning of my 28-year span of playing rugby, carrying me from PSU to club (original Whitemarsh, original Blackthorn, original Doylestown) to Golden Oldies ('85, '87, '89, '93) and other adventures.

My third story is about our trip to Cornell. It was replete with two firsts: matching jerseys (hand me down freshmen soccer shirts but we were glad to have them) and a bus for transportation. It was a 6-hour ride in those days. We were greeted when we arrived by the Cornell team at their favorite bar. The drinking commenced long into the evening. What we failed to perceive at the time was that Cornell's A & B sides faded away into the night as their Cs kept us going until closing time. We were each responsible for our own accommodations. As it happened it was "import weekend" when fraternity brothers were permitted to have girlfriends stay over, on separate floors of course owing to the mores of the times. This meant no extra "room at the inn" (my fraternity's local chapter) so three of us ended up "sleeping" on a pool table. Needless to say that after both the revels of the prior evening and our sleep deprivation we were in sorry shape for the match the next day. Cornell scored first and somehow miraculously we did as well with a penalty goal. Ivan Weiss then exclaimed "Look, we scored on these guys. We can take them!" Not exactly true as Cornell ripped off the next 31 points and beat us 36-3. But we had a bus and matching jerseys!

The point of these three tales is I think how easy it was to fall in love with rugby at Penn State and what an evolutionary experience it was. We were a real motley crew from really diverse backgrounds and most with no prior rugby experience. I was privileged to play with the likes of Marshall Sturm, Charlie Smith, Fraser Grigor, Larry Samples, Larry Kuhns, Dale Landis, and others who laid the foundation for PSU rugby. It opened a lot of experiential doors for me and gave me friendships throughout the rugby world. That's a lot.”