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St. Johns XV

(This article was written by Bart Sweeny IV, as a follow up to our article about the Mike Petris, father and son. Rugby Today encourages responses from its readers.)

"In 1974, I attended St. Francis Prep to play for legendary Coach Vince O’Connor (He is still there). I knew they had a rugby team and I intended to play. Alan Whelan had left the Prep to Coach St. Johns University. John Barnes was now the coach. At the Prep at that time if you were on the football team and you were not on the baseball or basketball team, you were strongly encouraged to play rugby. In 1976, Campbell College of Belfast, Ireland, came to play us at Travers Island. At the time, Campbell College was one of the top schoolboy rugby teams in Ireland. It was a tough match but we beat them. I was a lineman punter and placekicker on the football team, and a fullback on the rugby squad. A few weeks later, we traveled to Europe and beat three out of four English teams (We had a scrimmage workout in Twikenham with the French XV.) We played Marlowe, Felbridge and Winchester in England and a team attached to Racing Club of Paris in Stade Colombes.

I played four years of rugby, football and field events at the Prep, and won championships in all three sports. I then was recruited to play football at St. John’s University and low and behold there too, was Alan Whelan. I played for Alan the rest of college. We made a rugby tour of Ireland, stopping at Kerry, Tralee and Tipperary with Clan William RFC, where I slept on the Sweeney Farm. We played well but lost all matches, we could not match the Irish skill set. I played a few more years after college and then hung up my boots.

One of my first dates with my wife was a picnic at a rugby match on Randall’s Island. We had two children, my son Bart and my daughter Grace. My brother who also was a rugger told me he saw an ad in the local paper about U19 rugby. Bart and I showed up at a nearby practice field the week after Thanksgiving and low and behold, again, there was that man with the impossible Irish Brogue, Alan Whelan. The next three years Bart played under the coaching of Alan Whelan and New Zealander John Royal for Long Island RFC. We had a lot more victories than losses, but more importantly my son was taught the game by two great coaches. We traveled the tri state area competing in tournaments and league play. I spent an incredible amount of time with my son that I truly cherish. I never missed a match or practice and watched my son grow into a darn good rugger.

Bart also attended St. Francis Prep where he was a standout football player. Unfortunately, the rugby team had disintegrated over the years. Over those next three years, we rallied the Athletic Department to bring back the rugby team. All three of us extolled our previous and current experiences to all who would listen on how rugby would not only complimented the football team but all sports. We were given permission to start anew, which the lacrosse coach did not like. Rugby started as a trickle but eventually grew enough that St. Francis Prep had resurrected the sport after a two decade absence and countless volunteer hours from Alan Whelan. Unfortunately my son was now off to college and never got to play a minute for the Prep.  

He decided that he wanted to dedicate his college years to education and rugby. Stony Brook University’s Coach Dan Yarusso came to some of my sons U19 matches and convinced him that he should come to Stony Brook. The college’s rugby program was making great strides and that as long as he had the grades, he would love to have him. Four years later, a few trips to Las Vegas, back to back Empire Rugby Conference titles in 15’s & 7’s, road trips to Buffalo, St. Bonaventure Virginia Beach, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Dartmouth, West Point, Rutgers, Iona, Fordham, Buffalo, Brockport, and the Indianapolis 500, he entered his senior year. With second year Head Coach Jerry Mirro, the team is as competitive as I have ever seen it. The squad is 2 and 0 this season, beating Albany and Colgate.

It has been a fantastic experience for my son and myself. We will always share a passion… rugby…oh, and by the way, my son told me last week that Alan Whelan showed up to practice!"

(Photo: St. John's University Irish Tour - 1980. Coach Alan Whelan first row, left. Bart Sweeney, front row, third from left.)