A GUAM RUGBY STORY
FROM GRASS ROOTS TO WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS
By: Les Edwards
Original board member of The Guam Rugby Football Union
In The Beginning: A Pacific Island without Rugby (officially)
Rugby on Guam had been played casually since the `70's among a group of expats and locals. In the 1990’s rugby became a bit more organized with ‘club’ tours to Saipan, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Thailand, Palau and Pohnpei.
In 1996 there was a front-page newspaper article in the Pacific Daily News about which sports Guam would host in the 1999 South Pacific Games (SPG). Rugby was excluded although it had been introduced at SPG 1995 in Tahiti.
Stumped as to rugby’s omission, a few questions were asked of the reporter. He advised that as the host Guam could add or delete any sports they wished but that rugby had no chance as there was not be enough local interest in the game.
That could be said to be true of Guam at the time, however he failed to appreciate the love for the game held by the South Pacific nations of New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Raratonga (Cook Islands,) and Papua New Guinea, not to mention the world powerhouse of Rugby 7’s, Fiji.
A meeting was convened in the second half of 1996 at Chuck’s Steakhouse to discuss the merits of organizing a proper Rugby Club and becoming a Guam National Olympic Committee (GNOC) sports federation. The meeting attendees were Susan Bell, Andy Boyd, Matt Brodie, Stewart Cathie, Ken Cowan, Steve Dana, Graeme Dawe, Les Edwards, Stephen Grantham, Grant Loveridge, Alan and Ross Morrison, Neil Paynter and Jack Travers.
Alan Morrison, who was very much at the forefront of all things Rugby on Guam, was very passionate about hosting SPG Rugby and others followed his enthusiasm. He was voted the inaugural President of Guam Rugby Club (GRC). Matt Brodie and Graeme Dawe were elected Secretary and Treasurer, respectively. Les Edwards offered to assist in obtaining Sponsorship for the new enterprise and was appointed Marketing Director.
After much lobbying and presentations to the Guam National Olympic Committee (GNOC) members by Morrison and Edwards, GRC was unanimously approved as a sporting federation of the GNOC in December 1996 and Rugby 7’s was accepted as a participant sport for SPG 1999.
For some time a small triangular area of grass behind Wettengel Football Field had served as the venue for touch rugby. For the purposes of developing a rugby field for SPG and the long-term future of Rugby on Guam, GRC entered into negotiations with the Department of Parks & Recreation to adopt Lower Wettengel Field, as it was called, under the Government of Guam’s “Adopt A Park” program.
The area is now known as Wettengel Rugby Field and GRC has every right to be proud of it.
A “Field Committee” was established under the leadership of Allan Morrison, while Jack Travers, and later Andy Boyd, headed up a “Building Committee”. A D8 bulldozer moved in and raised and leveled enough ground for the creation of an international sized rugby field. Hard labor was put in by a great number of volunteers to remove rocks, spread topsoil, sow grass, plant shrubs and trees and pull weeds until such time as a pitch and natural surrounds took shape. Graeme Dawe and Jo Boyd took great pleasure and pride in cultivating a variety of plants and shrubs to please the eye.
That pitch is now complete with hybrid Bermuda grass, automated irrigation, coconut trees, hibiscus, African Tulips and banks and berms spectator viewing.
The building committee, with the assistance of volunteers and firms from Guam’s construction industry, set about providing the physical structures necessary for the hosting of a major sporting event such as SPG. Today the facilities include a concrete pavilion with dressing rooms and toilets (easily adaptable for further extensions and development), barbecue area, spectator bleachers and scoreboard.
GRC built and is continuing to develop Wettengel Rugby Field through the private sector, in co-operation with the related departments of the Government. The fund-raising was made by a combination of corporate sponsorship at varying levels, contributions in kind from various businesses and fund-raising activities and manpower provided by GRC members.
Les Edwards set about identifying potential sponsors and, with Alan Morrison, presented marketing proposals to a number of Guam’s leading businesses that might be interested in the development of an exciting new sport. The response was phenomenal!
A major Gold Sponsor – Budweiser, the King of Beers – came on board, providing the necessary cash flow. Tom Shimizu of Ambros Inc. and J. Lee Babb of Anheuser-Busch Asia embraced the vision and mission of GRC, providing a Sponsorship deal worth $75,000 over 5 years which greatly helped finance the project.
Other cash Bronze Sponsors were Ambyth Shipping, AK Toyota, Pacific Indemnity Insurance and PCI Communications, all contributing $10,000 over three years.
Continental Micronesia signed a 3 year Silver Sponsorship, providing free and discounted airline tickets that would enable GRC to fly in coaching specialists and take our SPG squad for off-island competition.
Dick Pacific, Morrico Equipment Corp, Perez Bros., Smithbridge Guam and Rocky Mountain Prestress provided the necessary materials, equipment and expertise to develop the field and buildings. HSBC served as GRC’s financial partner, The Westin Resort Guam provided accommodations and F&B facilities, and Canterbury of New Zealand supplied the Club’s jerseys and playing kit.
GRC was very fortunate to have such a large number of prestigious companies support its development and vision to bring the game of Rugby to Guam’s youth and adults.
Ken Cowan had been nominated as the Tournament Director for SPG which was to be held in February 1999, and he deemed it necessary that GRC host at least one warm-up tournament prior to the main event. His concept was a Guam Rugby International Tournament, or True GRIT 7’s as it became known, scheduled for February 1998. Eventually SPG was moved back to June which allowed for two full-on Tournaments before the big event.
Eight teams representing six countries participated with Saipan defeating a US Military team to take out the inaugural Budweiser Cup. More importantly, True GRIT allowed Club officials to practice the logistical and operational aspects of hosting a major tournament. It also promoted Rugby 7’s to the public of Guam, and allowed GRC to foster relationships with its island neighbors.
True GRIT 7’s were repeated in February 1999 as the final lead-in to the June 1999 SPG. In the Budweiser Cup Final, the Guam National team defeated SPG rivals, New Caledonia, who was also using the tournament as their final warm-up.
True GRIT is now an annual event although, post-SPG, the format changed to the more player-friendly Rugby 10’s game.
True GRIT has enabled GRC to play and entertain Rugby teams from Saipan, China, USA, Pohnpei, New Caledonia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Australia. It is an annual social Rugby event of the highest order and earns praise from each new team that attends.