Steve Swatzyna was inducted into the Memphis Rugby Hall of Fame in 2016 for his playing ability and consistent contributions to the sport of rugby in Memphis.
Honorary by Tony Lubiani
Greetings Ladies and Gentlemen
I’m glad to see some old faces, some young faces and some familiar ugly ones as well. I’m honored to stand before you tonight to recognize the accomplishments of the next honoree to the Memphis Rugby Hall of Fame.
I’ve known this guy since we were 17 years old, which now has been 45 years. It so happens that my wife Rosemary takes credit for this fellow receiving his award tonight. 45 years ago, Rosemary’s best friend was this fellow’s girl friend. Because of the girl’s friendship, we double dated quite a bit. As we hung out together our friendship grew and it wasn’t long that I introduced him to the sport of rugby, a sport introduced to me by my brother Ernie. My friend already enjoyed football for Bishop Byrne, and he thought another contact sport sounded fun.
Now, you old boys remember this but 45 years ago when you started playing rugby you began a steep learning curve that took several years. You see, there weren’t computers back then where you could YouTube the game. You learned from whomever you were around who might have knowledge of or experience with the game. Well… This guy we are honoring today fell in love with the sport and quickly became a student of the game.
His first taste of rugby came in the fall of 1972 when he joined the Wanderers and played a match against the Birmingham RFC . A group of brothers known as the Krebs brothers consisted of a third of their team. They were big and powerful and played an aggressive form of rugby. Were to you put a new athlete with no rugby experience? Fullback of course. But due to player injury he was moved around and ended up playing several positions including scrum half.
So, what was this player’s first taste of rugby? He broke his collar bone. Well, I figured that is the last we will see of him, but that could not have been farther from the truth. As soon as possible, he was back at practice perfecting his skills and loving every minute of it.
Being a glutton for punishment, we played side by side for the Wanderers making road trips to Birmingham, Nashville, St. Louis, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Fort Campbell. Each weekend we played A and B matches, sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays. We kept this pace through the spring of 1978.
Then due to a series of circumstances, we ended up playing for Old #7 in the fall of 1978. Every step of the way our honoree continued to learn and better himself. Due to his drive to achieve athletic excellence, he made the Mid South Select side at scrum half in 1978. Then he went on to be chosen to the South Select side from 1978 to 1982. He moved up another rung on the select side ladder, making the Eastern Rugby Union (ERU) select side in 1982.
Our honoree played an international match between the ERU and the South Africa Springboks while there was an international sanction on South African athletes. The match was played in a secret place to limit the demonstrations against the team. (SN: An interesting fact is that Dr. Peter Jones was the referee that day.) The score was not even close, but the experience our honoree gained was unforgettable.
He was invited to the Eagles camp from 1979 to 1982 and he continued to play for Old #7 until 1992.
By 1992, his playing time had finally caught up with him and though he was not longer playing the game he was not out of the game.
Early on he gave back to the sport that had given him so much. He picked up the coaches whistle and started teaching others about the game. He coached the Collierville High School rugby team from 1998 to 2000.
After two years off he was asked to coach the Memphis Tigers, a team he took over from 2002 to 2006. Following a break he returned to the Tigers in 2010, joining with Dr. Richard Cole to work with the Tigers where he remains today as the Backs, 7s and competition coach for the Tigers. Under his direction and coaching the Tigers have risen from a struggling D3 team to a competitive D1aa team in the South Independent Rugby Conference.
This man has given his blood, sweat, money and tears for the sport of rugby. He has built rugby fields, spread paint, fertilizer, raised goal posts and built into the lives of young men in order to advance the sport that he loves so much.
So, the next time you see Rosemary, tell her thanks for introducing him to the sport of rugby.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of the Memphis Rugby Hall of Fame, Mr. Steve Swatzyna.