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by Brian Vizard, President, U.S. Rugby Foundation
"What a Night!" The Stars Come Out for the 2019 U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame Induction Dinner
Infinity Park’s Event Center in Glendale, Colorado was the site for this past weekend’s 2019 U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame Induction Dinner, and what a venue it was. With state-of-the-art amenities and space for the record-setting 360 Hall of Fame Dinner attendees, it was the perfect setting for this year’s function.
The doors officially opened at 5:30 but anxious arrivals showed up closer to 5:00. Once the party started, guests enjoyed the Canterbury-sponsored reception, which included beer provided by Anheuser-Busch, and wine provided by Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits, and the Mark and Naomi Price Wine Company.
This year’s Hall of Fame inductees and Prusmack recipients greeted what appeared to be an endless stream of well-wishers while others in the room took the opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. Guests also got to view a slideshow of all 63 past Hall of Fame inductees.
USA Rugby’s Commercial Director, Mark Griffin, introduced Canterbury’s Global Director of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, Sean Kavanagh, who talked about the new kit the U.S. Men’s Team will be wearing at the Pacific Nations Cup and Rugby World Cup in Japan. USA Eagles Joe Taufete’e, Tony Lamborn and James Hilterbrand did their best runway walks modeling some of the new Canterbury kit. And to top off the reception, U.S. Men’s Team Head Coach, Gary Gold, talked about the five week camp the Eagles have enjoyed prior to their Canada match and with a look ahead to the World Cup.
I started the awards show rolling shortly after 8:00 p.m. I recognized some of the dignitaries in the crowd, starting off with Jeff Leinen, Senior Manager of Sponsorship at The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, the Presenting Sponsor of this year’s Hall of Fame Induction Dinner.
Also recognized were the Directors and Governors of the U.S. Rugby Foundation, the leadership of USA Rugby, the folks from radio Tonga, and Mayor Mike Dunafon and his staff from the City of Glendale. Many of the biggest names in the history of USA Rugby were in attendance and Vizard called by name the over 50 past and present Eagles, and Hall of Famers enjoying the evening.
After a moment’s silence to remember all those in the U.S. rugby community who passed away this past year, Brad Andrews, Chairman of the U.S. Rugby Foundation, welcomed this year’s crowd. He also made mention of the fact that two of the men who’ve had perhaps the biggest impacts on the sport in the U.S., Dick Smith and Bob Watkins, were recently named Governor Emeritus and Chairman Emeritus, of the U.S. Rugby Foundation.
Following Andrews to the podium was USA Rugby Chair, Barbara O’Brien, who also welcomed the crowd on behalf of the Union. Next up was U.S. Rugby Foundation Campaign Chairman, Jay Waldron, who talked about the multi-year, multi-million dollar campaign of the Foundation. To provide support were past U.S. Rugby Foundation High Performance and Graham Downes Scholarship recipients, Kevin Swiryn and Ben Pinkelman, who described the opportunities of traveling to rugby academies in New Zealand and South Africa through the Foundation grants and how those opportunities benefited their rugby careers.
Jeff Leinen then spoke of Penn Mutual’s association with rugby and the partnership it has with the U.S. Rugby Foundation. And it was the perfect segue into The Prusmack Awards presentation as Penn Mutual has been a major sponsor of the USA Sevens and CRC tournaments, both owned by the late A. Jon Prusmack and his wife, Patti Prusmack.
I introduced a two-minute video tribute to Jon Prusmack, produced by Jalbert Productions. I then asked Prusmack Committee member, Tim DuVal, to say a few words about his old Westchester teammate and to present the first-ever Prusmacks to this year’s recipients, the U.S. Military Academy’s Samantha Sullivan and Lindenwood University’s Cristian Rodriguez.
It was then time to honor this year’s Class of 2019. And after a very nice video tribute of this year’s Class by John Morgan and Paul Frederick, the presentations started with Naufahu Anitoni making an emotional speech about his father, Vaea Naufahu Anitoni.
The night’s second presenter was Scott McLean, a long-time teammate and coach with the night’s second inductee, Bob Causey.
Don Haider, a 2018 U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, welcomed John Decker into the HOF.
Matt Gross, the oldest of the Gross siblings, introduced his “little” brother, Luke.
Jim Kearney, long-time teammate and business partner of the late, J. “Tyke” Nollman, talked about his friend and welcomed Jane Nollman, Tyke’s wife, to say a few words.
The last inductee of the night, Don Reordan, was introduced by his children, Breanna Grigsby and Bret Reordan.
I ended the historic night by thanking all those in attendance with the hope he’d see them all at next year’s U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame Induction Dinner.
The only unfortunate part of the evening was that the two silent auction items, a US Rugby Foundation "signature ball” signed by Pete Rose and a rugby jersey signed by all the winning Rugby World Cup captains, went missing just before the end of the awards ceremony. If anyone has any information about the items, please contact the me at 619-233-0765.
But that one moment will not take away from what was a memorable night.
See you at next year's U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame Induction Dinner.