Trio inducted in the Vail Rugby HOF
It was a loud, sudsy and good-humored evening at the Seasons on the Green at the Vail Golf Club as the Vail Rugby Football Club inducted Bill “Brownie” Brown, Pat “Farmer” McDonald and Charlie Penwill into its club Hall of Fame with a barb-filled roast.
“I’d say it might get kind of ugly here in a little bit,” Brownie said before the proceedings began.
“I’ve known Brownie for 30 years and I’m just glad to be here,” Old Boy Steve “Bobcat” Thissen said. “Honest. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to be alive. Honest to god, I should have been dead 25 years ago, hanging around with Brown so much.”
“I taught Farmer everything he knew. It took me a long time,” Brownie said.
“One of the things Brownie’s got going for him is gravity and gravity’s really his hero,” Farmer replied.” He prays to the gravity gods. Everything he does – skiing … I’m waiting for him to take up skydiving because I’m thinking gravity is something he really loves.”
Upon seeing pictures of Brown and McDonald at the ceremony, club president Scott Marino had just one thing to say.
“I think there’s no way in heck that that is Bill Brown at 145 pounds and red hair,” Marino said. “I do think it’s great that the only picture of Farmer is of him getting beat.”
“Charlie Pinhead,” Thissen said with a laugh. “He taught me everything I forgot about rugby.”
Old Boy Piet Pieters couldn’t help but juxtapose Brown and McDonald.
“It’s like comparing the saint to Satan when you’re comparing Farmer to Brownie,” Pieters said. “Farmer’s kind of the outdoors-type. The quiet guy. Obviously, the loudest player in the history of the United States is Brownie.”
The ribbing continued late in the evening, but it didn’t mask the importance of this trio when it comes to their place in Vail Rugby history.
Penwill founded the club in 1972 and guided it through its early years.
Though Penwill was unable to attend, Old Boy Chris Chantler read a letter on his behalf.
“First, I want to apologize for not being here,” Penwill wrote. “When I found out that I was actually leaving for the U.K. on the day of the event, I had the same kind of sinking feeling I had as Vail first coach when I showed up for training and nobody was there.
“My assumption on that day and on many future training days was that I always had the wrong day.”
Penwill went on to congratulate his fellow inductees as well as acknowledge Thissen, Rusty Wood and Vail superintendent Ben Krueger.
“I certainly appreciate being inducted as the first Vail Rugby Club coach and organizer, but there are always those quiet people behind the scenes who don’t get much of the spotlight, but do a lot of the work,” Penwill wrote.
Brown played for Vail in the 70s before becoming the first player from the Eastern Rockies Rugby Football Union to become an Eagle, a member of the U.S. National team.
“It’s been great,” Brown said. “This rugby, we’ve made a lot of friendships over the years. When my wife and I flew over here from Australia to get married, it wasn’t high-school friends or college friends or anything. It was all rugby people who came from all over the world.”
McDonald was introduced to rugby in 1973. He was on the sidelines when a player got injured. Farmer subbed in and that was the beginning of a 20-year career.
“It’s something that I’ve been involved with for so many years, he said. “It’s really nice of the club now, I think, to come up with this concept. It’s something that’s kind of new to the club and I think it will help get some of the older guys involved and keep them interested in what’s going on.”
Hall-of-Fame plaques weren’t the only awards handed out Wednesday evening. The club presented the Robin Hood and Best Supporter Awards. The Robin Hood Award went to Scott Holstad, better known in Rugby circles as Beef. It turns out that Vail Rugby needed a scrum machine and the Gents of Aspen happened to have one lying around on their field.
In the spirit of the Robin Hood Award, after dark one evening, Beef took it upon himself to place the aforementioned scrum machine in the back of his truck and bring it back to Vail.
“Everything was fine until three weeks later when we had a home game against Aspen,” Chantler recalled to laughs. “So they painted the scrum machine in Vail colors, the blue and white, thinking that would be enough to disguise it. A couple of Aspen players were actually looking at the scrum machine after the game and they were quite impressed by it. Suddenly they realized that it was theirs. Being that Aspen only had a few people at the drink-up afterwards, they were a bit outnumbered and they left.
“Two days later, we were being threatened with all our games being cancelled for the rest of the season by the Union. So he decided that he’d better take it back. Beef deposited it at the top of Independence Pass and left it there.”
The Best Supporter Award went to Old Boy Mark Lagesse.
“He’s been such an amazing supporter both at every single home game and away game,” Chantler said. “He’s definitely one Old Boy who we can definitely say has travelled with us and stuck with us through every single fixture across the country.”