The rugby team here at Vassar began over 30 years ago and boasts a long, impressive list of alumni who have grown to love the sport. An annual alumni game takes place at the Vassar Farm every Founder’s Day and offers an opportunity for players past and present to come together, share stories and experiences, and play quite an interesting game of rugby. Many of these alumni take their love for the game with them when they leave Vassar and continue to involve rugby in their daily lives.
Three recent male alumni, Brett Anker ’12, Jerry Dieudonne ’13 and Dan Flynn ’13 are all staying involved with the sport. Flynn began playing for Boston Maccabi Rugby Football Club the fall after graduation. The former front row forward heard about the team through another Vassar College alum: Bruce Mendelson ’90. Mendelson, currently the oldest player on the team, mentioned the Maccabees during the 2013 Vassar alumni game and Flynn was immediately hooked. The team plays in the New England Rugby Football Union Senior Men’s Division III, and is open to all over age 18. “The average age of our players is 27-28, but we have some men as young as 21 and as old as 45,” explained Flynn. The Maccabees also compete in the NERFU D3 Conference for a playoff position and a chance to play at a regional qualifier for Nationals.
The Maccabees do a lot of work off the rugby pitch as well. “One of the things that really drew me in about the team is that we are also a non-profit community service organization. I’m actually on the executive board as the Director of Community Service. There are so many teams in Boston to play for, I think what sets us apart is the fact that we leverage the bond we form through playing rugby to give back to the community and make a difference in the world around us,” Flynn explained.
Dieudonne, a teammate and friend of Flynn’s, is now also playing for the Maccabees, yet his path to Boston was a bit different than Flynn’s. After finishing Vassar in the fall of 2013, the speedy winger stayed with his older brother Rudy for a few months, traveled in Switzerland for a bit, moved to Nashville, Tennessee, then relocated to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to live with his younger brother Roy and work for Citibank. “It was not the most legitimate team I ever played on,” Dieudonne divulged. “During my time there attendance was inconsistent, logistics were sketchy at times–I would show up to an empty field at practice in Marion Park because no one told me it was canceled or no one had bothered to come, we had a five game Spring schedule, and we often practiced with the local high school boy’s team in the overheated Avera Sports Dome.” While there, work and rugby often conflicted with one another as practice times and Dieudonne’s work shift often overlapped. Dieudonne often would arrive to see teammates packing up their bags as he was jogging over.
What brought Dieudonne back east was his connection to Vassar Rugby. He spoke with Flynn via the Vassar Rugby Alumni Facebook page this past spring and was introduced to Alex Goldstein, founder of Boston Maccabi RFC. Goldstein was eventually able to get Dieudonne in touch with potential employers as well. This fall, Flynn and Dieudonne were joined by a third Vassar rugby alum, Zach Kent ’13. “I think I’ll always fondly remember how well the three of us played on the same team in those pickup games, communicating well as we had for years and being able to predict each other’s movements and create gaps at which to run hard. It was clear that our time at Vassar had made us good individual players, but great as a unit,” reminisced Dieudonne.
While alumnus Brett Anker has been playing some Division III rugby with a team down in Washington, DC and a Division II squad in White Plains, New York, he has also been covering international collegiate club rugby as a freelance reporter for Rugby Today. Anker, who recently got his master’s degree in Sports Management while in Washington DC, has interned for the NFL Player’s Association, worked for Major League Baseball and now has settled into a position doing property management accounting.
While rugby can often be time consuming, Anker relishes the opportunity to stay so close to the game. He writes previews and recaps, along with some PR work and side stories, was a writer for the Varsity Cup, a championship that hosts the top programs in all of Division 1 college rugby, and was most recently interviewed on an Australian rugby radio program about American collegiate rugby. This has provided him the opportunity to also attend a host of major rugby matches and events throughout the country, including the Collegiate Rugby Championship and some exhibition games between the US and European club teams.
The three alumni all value their time as rugby players here at Vassar. Flynn stated, “Joining Vassar Rugby was the single best decision I made in my time at Vassar. It’s hard to articulate just how much that experience formed me and how important the relationships I developed through it are to me.” All were also sure to mention head coach Tony Brown and the impact he and the program have had on their lives. Anker came to Vassar a soccer player and was introduced to Brown via an introductory swim class. Anker explained, “Tony would always come up to me and say, ‘when you want to play a real sport, come talk to me.’I hadn’t really been enjoying soccer [and eventually did]. My first game was on tour in Ireland where I was playing fullback at the time, a big Irish center came down, barreled over me and scored. After the try when we were behind the posts, Tony came up to me and said, ‘Welcome to rugby lad, go out and get the next one!’ I was immediately hooked.”
Dieudonne too offered some thoughts on his old head coach. In reference to his on field accolades and overall love for the game, he explained, “None of this would have been possible without the support, generosity and brilliance of the Vassar men’s and women’s Rugby Coach, Anthony Brown. Tony has personally provided me opportunities I never would have dreamed possible, and there is no way I can hope to fully repay him for all that he has given me. I try though, in my own small way, by keeping up with the sport I love and leaving nothing on the field for every minute I’m lucky enough to be out there.