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Arkansas State rugby patriarch Curt Huckaby died Tuesday after living several years with ALS. Huckaby resurrected the program at ASU in 1996, serving as volunteer head coach for 14 years. During that time, Huckaby amassed a record of 183-44-1, leading the Red Wolves to the brink of a DII National Championship on several occasions and national prominence as a DI power. He saw 16 Red Wolves earn All-American honors, including sons Matt and Curtis.
Huckaby also served as the Craighead County District Court judge, continuing on the bench well into his bout with ALS.
“Curt Huckaby is a legend in collegiate rugby for his contributions to the sport and his dedication to the young men who play,” said Dr. Tim Hudson, chancellor at Arkansas State. “His work promoting and guiding the Arkansas State Rugby Club is well-known in our community, but he also served as an ambassador for the sport and the university across the Mid-South as a member of USA Rugby committees. He made a positive difference for lots of people and had the courage of his convictions. He will be greatly missed.”
“I have had many great coaches. Curt Huckaby was without a doubt the greatest man out of all of them. He opened his life and resources to everyone that played at ASU,” said Nardus Wessels, an All American at ASU under Curt and Matt.
“Many coaches would have kicked me out after my first year. I hated Arkansas, and I hated rugby in Arkansas. He made me see that my unhappiness was not coming from the outside, but from the inside. He also made me fall in love with a different side of the sport.
“He would often light up when he heard news of some misfit player that graduated and got a job out of college. I'm sure the list of people he has influenced in his decades of involvement must be massive. If rugby is really the game played in heaven, I'm sure he is turning one of those teams into a massive success as we speak."
While Huckaby is perhaps best known in the rugby community for building a powerhouse program in northeast Arkansas, his impact reaches far past Jonesboro and the A-State campus.
“Curt touched so many people with his kindness and gentle heart,” said Kevin Battle, D1A commissioner, Sacramento Express coach and Santa Barbara Rugby Academy founder.
“In my last conversation with Curt he said to me, ‘Kevin, as I get closer to the end, I've come to realize it doesn't matter what I've accomplished in life or how much is in my bank account. What really matters is my relationship with my wife, my kids, and the impact I've been able to have on young people. Keep doing what you’re doing, trust me, it’s what really matters.’ I love you Curt Huckaby. I am so sad you are gone, but glad to know heaven just got a little bit brighter.”
Huckaby’s legacy will live on in many ways – A-State’s rugby field was named in his honor in May, and Arkansas State and Life began playing annually for the Curt Huckaby Cup, a traveling trophy between the South’s top two collegiate programs, a couple of years ago – a fitting tribute for a man who had a profound impact on rugby in the South.
“People come along, rarely, in your life that leave an impact in a way that leaves you feeling blessed and honored to have had their attention/input. Coach Curt Huckaby was/will always be one of those men for me,” said Life athletic director and former head coach Dan Payne.
“10 years ago he got off a bus and greeted me with the most enthusiastic, energized and sincere hug a coach one of my teams was about to compete against ever gave me. Minor detail – this was the first time I ever met him. It was only up from that great starting point.
“Win every day, compete like crazy, respect your opponent, enjoy the competition, human relationships are the most important aspect of life, let logic prevail. Did I mention win every day? On and on… He was special. A judge, a coach and an amazing dad – anyone that can have those three monikers added to their name has served one hell of a life.”
Huckaby handed the reins of the program off to his son Matt in 2010, but stayed intimately involved, helping with recruiting, player development and fundraising. He attended A-State’s home games through the spring season, always wanting to see the next generation of Red Wolves in action. Even without a whistle, he helped positively impact the lives of young people.
“I still remember the first time we met and [Curt] politely told me to sit in the back as [he] escorted my Mother to the front of [his] truck,” recalled Jake Mizell, an All-American prop under Matt at ASU. “[Curt] drove us around town, and I could see right then and there that I was meant to be a part of his program. The way he spoke about his love for the program and the other students in it left no doubt in me and mother's mind that this is where I was meant to be. I owe so much to Curt, his family, and everyone that's a part of the ASU Rugby. Your influence will be carried on in rugby for years to come!”