Kelly, a very non-sports fan, wanted to go to the season-opening match between the Vermont Law School Fighting Swans and the Tuck at Dartmouth Big Green. Tuck is the Ivy League school’s world-renowned MBA business school. As for the Fighting Swans, the environmental law school ranks consistently as the best in the nation with an acclaimed one-year environmental law masters program, which brought Kelly to the school.
We met Alex, one of the players, the night before at Worthy Burger, a new bar and grill featuring locally grown delights and a selection of craft beers worthy of any good college town. In tiny South Royalton, the words “college town” are very important, since without the Law School there might not be much of a town. It was an easy walk from Kelly’s apartment past the town square and a climb over the railroad tracks to enjoy a great grass-fed hamburger topped with Vermont cheddar cheese and locally grown produce.
Alex is a law student from New Jersey. His parents were visiting this weekend as well. While Kelly and Alex talked, we got the full rundown on Alex’s rugby career in high school and college from his parents. With Greek and Italian heritage, Alex’s parents were wonderfully gregarious and effusive in their love of their son.
The next morning at the small market, one of the few shops and eateries that line one edge of the town square, we met another player buying a 12-pack of beer “just in case I get hurt, you know, to ease the pain.” Indeed. Standing in the market in his game gear, the differences between the sports Laura and I usually deal with on a weekend seemed dramatically different but still important.
We headed a mile north from the school before turning just past the cemetery. At the log cabins, we made one final turn to find the pitch right behind a cornfield with players from both teams warming up in a casually organized way. At schools where the players’ chosen course of study demands more study time than practice time, a wide mix of body shapes, sizes and skills made up the two teams. A number of older Dartmouth players looked more like Tuck professors than students.
Kelly and Angelica, a first-year law student from Puerto Rico, settled in their chair amongst the predominately female fans that lined one sideline. Laura and I wandered the other sideline as the match began. We could not help but notice the goal posts made of PVC pipe. The uprights at both ends sagged inward making it a judgement call whether a kick was good.
While this was not a titanic battle destined for a recap on ESPN Saturday night, it was a great match regardless. This was sport at its simplest and close to its purest. The light rain and low-hanging clouds did nothing to dampen the spirits of the players or the fans. The many dogs brought to the match eventually settled down for naps in the wet grass as the fans cheered on the teams.
One Dartmouth fan yelled loudly, “Go Green!” Then realizing both teams were wearing green jerseys, with Vermont Law’s in two different shades, added, “The one in dark green!” To counter the cheers, a Vermont Law fan held up her simple, quickly made sign as a show of support.
There were no trainers or managers. Dartmouth had one coach. We never could decide who was coaching Vermont Law. One of the officials at the half gave up his duties to don a uniform and play the second half for Dartmouth. That meant we were working with a “replacement official” but no one complained. At the half, players chugged water out of gallon jugs purchased on the way to the match. There was not a Gatorade bucket in sight.
Alex’s father stopped by to impart some rugby wisdom. “Soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by animals. Rugby is a game for animals played by gentlemen,” he told us. Then, laughing, he added, “American football is a game for animals played by animals.”
That actually made sense. Just thinking about the course of Kelly’s study over this semester – Energy Policy, Environmental Law, Legal Studies, Legislation – and in the spring – Environmental Dispute Resolution, Environmentalism in America, Natural Resource Law, Environmental Writing and Advocacy and Environmental Economics and Markets – made me think that planting a stiff forearm shiver into the chest of some budding corporate executive might be the perfect stress relief.
While the first half did not go well for Vermont Law, the Swans mounted a spirited comeback in the second half. Alex sprinted away from lunging defenders late in the second half to cross the goal line and touch the ball down for a five-point “try.” Then he added the two-point conversion kick to even the score only to see Dartmouth add one last “try” to close out the match and a 19-14 victory. A tough loss, but it was heartwarming to watch Kelly and her new friends make simple sport a rewarding afternoon.
So, a rugby match broke out. What was I to do? Naturally, I dug out a camera and shot. It was good to shoot a sport simply for sport.