For the first time in the nearly five-decade history of the UC Santa Cruz rugby team, a full set of stadium lights illuminate the Lower East Field allowing players to train together during the dark winter season hours.
That means no more bleary-eyed 6:30 a.m. practices that start in the dark and end with rushed departures for 8 a.m. classes and no more late-night student carpools to off-campus practice sites in Scotts Valley, Aptos, and Harvey West Park.
The lights turned on this month, thanks to a generous $190,000 donation by rugby alumnus George Kraw (1971), who played mostly “lock” and “break-away” on the first rugby team in 1967—the same team that is credited with being the first to adopt the venerated Banana Slug as its mascot. There was also a whole lot of footwork by campus administrators, rugby coaches, and a donation by Baton Rouge, LA-based Boss Light Towers that made the project a reality.
“It’s pretty exciting and kind of unbelievable,” says Billy O’Driscoll, the rugby team captain who plays fly-half, a position similar to quarterback in American football. “The mindset right now is to make the post-season playoffs this year. That’s our goal right now and I think it’s an attainable goal.”
That’s exactly what Kraw, a Silicon Valley civil attorney, was hoping to hear.
“I think that a world-class university deserves a world-class rugby team and that requires lighted fields,” Kraw says. “I didn’t want to trouble the Regents or the legislature of the state of California. They’re busy, busy, busy. So, I wrote a check.”
Kraw, who was on campus last year for a rugby reunion, said he was impressed not only with the team, but in players’ commitment to shouldering the costs for the team during tight budget years. He asked what it would take to take the current team to the next level.
The answer was simple: more practice time. Until now it’s been nearly impossible to find time to practice all together due to complicated student schedules, field maintenance schedules, and too few hours of light in winter.
The 48 new lamps that stand 40-feet high from six mobile trailers are expected to surpass regulation lumens for night competitions and can be moved to accommodate other clubs, events, or emergencies. Directional shields around each 1,000-watt bulb minimize light pollution.
“I am hopeful that this leads to string of league championships and victories over Berkeley and Stanford, if not home matches with Oxford, Paris-Sorbonne, and Tokyo’s Waseda universities,” Kraw says.
The new rugby practice schedule is 7–9 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The lights will also benefit the women’s rugby team and other athletic teams, if they choose to have night practices.
“It will have a huge impact on the ability of teams to improve and train and compete,” says Jeremy Sanford, an associate professor of Molecular, Cell and Development Biology who coaches men’s rugby along with head coach Robbie Bellue. “It will give us time to build the continuity we need to be competitive.”
Hopefully the lights will draw people like a beacon to the team. “There are still a lot of people who don’t know rugby is a sport the campus is really good at.”
The team feels the alumni support behind them, O’Driscoll says.
“There’s a lot of tradition in our club. The new lights add to feeling that “there’s a change in the wind for the team. We’re definitely getting our stride more. Everyone’s coming together.”