Why we play: Joe Simon, Men’s Rugby

Senior men’s rugby captain and center Joe Simon breaks a tackle in a match last season. This week, Simon reflects on the camaraderie and brotherhood of Vassar’s rugby program. / Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

Vassar is fortunate to have so many talented and dedicated student-athletes on campus. This year, The Miscellany News would like to highlight the voices and stories of these athletes. “Why We Play” will be a weekly installment in the Sports section where Vassar players will have the opportunity to speak about what their chosen sport means to them. This week, senior men’s rugby captain Joe Simon writes about the culture and community of his sport at Vassar.

We play rugby on Founder’s Day. I used to hate it. I thought it got in the way. The party at Ballantine was usually already tuckered out when I got there. I always missed out on the fun, the photo ops…everything.

But reflecting on this question—why I play—I feel the answer is tied up somewhere on that Founder’s Day each year, when the rugby team goes out to the farm to play our alumni, accompanied by sometimes good-but-muffled techno as the soundtrack.

It’s not like the game itself is more enjoyable than usual. The current student team usually gets beaten pretty badly. We have a lot of alums, and most of them are still very good at rugby, or at least try really hard (come at me, Brett). Not to mention that at halftime the seniors on the team “graduate” to play for the alumni. I guess that part is fun for the seniors.

Everyone on the team, first-year to super senior, leaves their mark on this program, because everyone leaves a lasting impression on each other. That’s what happens when you play rugby. You get tackled knowing that your teammates are on your back, ready to support and protect you. There is no way to play this game without that kind of trust and sacrifice, so you just naturally start to love everyone.

But why I play isn’t about playing on Founder’s Day. It’s something about perspective, playing with the people who shaped this program and who shaped me, I get to feel a part of something very much bigger than me. I don’t really care if that’s a cliché, because it’s a super warm feeling and it’s kept me grounded through all these years at Vassar. This place can be very isolating. It’s easy to feel awash in an amorphous group of friends.

It’s even easier to be stressed about what comes after these handful of years.

Where will I find a job? Will I still see my friends? Will I be okay?

The weight of these questions doesn’t necessarily go away, but this community, 50 years of an evolving tradition, certainly lightens the load. It’s gonna be fine. I’m gonna be fine.

I understand if you think I’m giving too much credit to the rugby teams for my existential security. I didn’t feel this strongly when I first started playing freshman year. I just liked to play, and some of the people seemed alright. But here I am watching a movie in my living room full of teammates, the people I love. Here I am, hanging out with people from both the men’s and women’s rugby teams pretty much every day. It is not just for me anymore. The alumni game expands this feeling, it shows that this feeling has a history, and that there are hundreds of alumnae still invested in this feeling.

At the start of this season, the current men’s and women’s rugby captains had dinner with Bear (the head of our unofficial alumnae association) and a few former captains. They gave us a lot of great advice, but what really stuck with me from that night was our conversation about what they realized after their last game at Vassar. All the work they put in for that season was also for the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that. As a senior player, I’ve come to see part of being on the Vassar rugby teams is engaging in a labor of love that goes beyond your own four years. It’s just another part of the game for me. As a captain, all I really want to do is to leave the jersey and this program a little better than when I started.

It’s hard for me to imagine not having this amazing team (who often support me without even realizing it) around me at all times next year.

But the alumnae game is a testament to the fact that the team will never really leave me. I’ve heard countless stories over the years about rugby alumnae continuing to support each oth- er, everything from officiating each other’s weddings to opening up homes when a teammate was hard on luck. Some of the alums are still playing together 30 or so years out of Vassar.

Playing and hanging with the alumni lets me see my teammates, all in our 20s, for who they will be.

These people that I tackle today will one day be my future child’s “aunts and uncles.”

Like vines, their lives are interwoven in mine. That’s what happens when you grow together; that’s what happens when you play rugby.

Joe Simon is a senior captain and center on the men’s rugby team. He will “graduate” in this spring’s alumni game.

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