Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Dedication to a Setter Man of the first order..

Rugby Clubhouse
Worth the Wait
By Jack Degange

Corey Ford, who died more than 35 years ago, would be pleased. For several hundred Dartmouth rugby alumni and players who have survived about 20 years of off-field trying, their vision of the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse is a reality.

Designed by architect Randall Mudge and built over the past 15 months by Trumbull-Nelson, the Corey Ford Clubhouse gives Dartmouth rugby players a place they finally can call “home,” a facility that is unmatched in the spectrum of collegiate athletics.

Located less than a mile north of the Dartmouth College campus, the 6,000-square foot clubhouse nestles into a slope of the former Garipay Farm property (now owned by Dartmouth). The clubhouse is destined to be one of Dartmouth’s distinctive buildings. It may be the only rugby clubhouse in the world designed to provide symmetrical, unified facilities that serve men and women.

The Corey Ford Clubhouse gives Dartmouth rugby players a place they finally can call “home,” a facility that is unmatched in the spectrum of collegiate athletics.

The clubhouse is a story of ultimate collaboration involving the College and hundreds of Dartmouth rugby players and parents, including over a dozen leadership donors. It’s also the culmination of years of scrumming, beginning in the mid-1980s. The circuitous route that brought the clubhouse back to its originally intended site included legal action by concerned neighbors in Hanover, the machinations of municipal planning review when the clubhouse seemed destined to be part of a residential-recreation complex proposed by the College at Sachem Field, south of Hanover in Lebanon, N.H., and a Hanover-Dartmouth transaction involving the Garipay property that didn’t happen.

Rugby is an independent, self-supporting club sport at Dartmouth, not one of the College’s 34 intercollegiate teams for men and women. At Dartmouth, football (the American version) evolved from the English game of rugby about 130 years ago. As football grew, rugby disappeared until the DRFC was established in 1951. The Dartmouth Women’s Rugby Club (DWRC) was formed in the late 1970s.

That was also the year that Corey Ford, a Columbia University graduate and noted author, moved to Hanover. It’s uncertain whether Ford adopted the DRFC or vice versa but the story of the rugby clubhouse begins with Mr. Ford.

His home on North Balch Street, near the campus and the playing fields, became the unofficial Dartmouth rugby clubhouse. Ford once wrote, “My own playing experience is limited to a few scrums in the New York subway at rush hour. I am hailed as ‘Coach’ for want of a better title. In the locker room before a match I sit in owlish silence, sucking on my pipe and occasionally nodding my head up and down sagely. I’ve heard the team has a secret maneuver called the Corey Ford play. I haven’t the foggiest idea what it is, and nobody will tell me.”

Ford also saw rugby, with its fundamentally amateur atmosphere, as the answer to creeping professionalism in college athletics. When he died in 1969, his estate included a bequest to Dartmouth designated for the support of rugby. That included the intention for a permanent rugby clubhouse.

Over the years, the sport has flourished to include the Dartmouth women’s rugby team, now over 25 years old. The two programs, men and women, rank with the best teams in the nation. Each has won Ivy League and New England championships and competed in national tournaments. Each spring since 1951, with one exception, the Dartmouth men have made annual tours against national and international opponents. The women’s teams have made similar tours for about 20 years.

Concurrently, the Dartmouth rugby endowment, built from Ford’s original gift, has grown through subsequent fund raising. After being shuttled from site to site, the Corey Ford Clubhouse seemed a reasonable expectation for an organization that did all it was asked to do. About two years ago, Dartmouth President James Wright said, in essence, “Enough. It’s time for this to happen.”

Benefiting from President Wright’s support, the clubhouse returned to the originally planned site. Ground was broken for the building in May 2004. Over the past year, though the construction schedule was plagued in its early stages by uncooperative weather, Trumbull-Nelson’s team has brought the project to fruition.

The building sits in a landscaped bank that creates a natural amphitheater overlooking George Brophy ’56 Field to the south, an emerald expanse that incorporates a state-of-the art irrigation and drainage system and is the competition site. The companion George (Skip) Battle ’66 Field, on the north side of the clubhouse near Reservoir Road, is a pitch where B- and C-side matches will be played and teams will practice.

The overall site is positioned in a hollow, a setting that capitalizes on the beauty of nearby Balch hill to the east and woods on two sides of Brophy Field.

The main level of the clubhouse commemorates the sport’s tradition at Dartmouth. Paneled trophy rooms and a kitchen-serving area flank the Deevy Room, given in memory of Bill Deevy ’47 by his three Dartmouth sons. This large, central area, crowned by a vaulted ceiling and elevated panels where shirts from historic games will be mounted, will be the setting for post-game receptions and other events.

There’s a dramatic stone fireplace and balcony at one end of the Deevy Room. At the opposite end, a glass wall looks onto the John Kilmartin ’75 Deck that provides spectators with an elevated vantage point to watch matches on Brophy Field.

Changing rooms for Dartmouth teams and opponents surround a trainer’s room on the Brophy Field level. A challenge gift by Kelly Fowler Hunter ’83, one of the earliest members of the women’s team, was instrumental among naming gifts for this area of the clubhouse.

And a remarkable, distinctive building it is. The exterior, with its eye-catching western red cedar shingles is accented by the forest green paint on shutters and the forged metal railing that curves around the Kilmartin Deck.

Integrated into the paneling immediately inside the main entrance that has a granite floor, a large granite tablet is inscribed with the names of 400 donors. Many of them were among more than 500 guests who descended on Hanover in late September for a dedication weekend that included alumni games (for women and men who are willing). The Dartmouth women’s A side played Harvard in the first match on Brophy Field, followed by the men’s A side against Army.

As impressive as the tablet recognizing the generosity of the Dartmouth rugby family is another tribute that honors the genesis of this building.

Centered in the exterior wall between the doors that provide access from the changing rooms to Brophy Field is a curved granite tablet. In large, carved letters are four words: Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse.

Ford once wrote, “Rugby is strictly a game of the players, by the players, and for the players.” At Dartmouth, the sport isn’t quite so informal as it once was. Thirty-six years since his death, and after more than two decades of struggle as taxing as any scrum, Dartmouth rugby’s men and women, students playing a sport described by Ford as an “athletic stepchild,” finally have a home of their own.

My thoughts...

Corey Ford, author of what has come to be called "The greatest piece of Sporting Literature ever written, "The Road to Tinkhamtown", is also the man owned by his great English Setter, Cider, and his get.
At his death, his beloved Setter purportedly somehow got into his hospital room and laid across Mr. Ford's body. Although the dog went to a good and loving home, the Setter later died of a broken heart...


  1. Bill,
    This was good to read being a long time fan of Cory Ford. The Road to Tinkhamtown brought a tear to my eye the first time I read it.
    To bad the Clubhouse took so long to come to reality but its finally here after much hard work and dedication by many.
    Very Good!

  2. Bill,
    Corey Ford was a fantastic gentlemen, Laurie ended up with several of his dogs. Laurie was Dave Meisners right hand girl at Gun Dog magazine and later at his last magazine (PDJ), which Steve Smith now publishes. Laurie has been to the real T-Town. Because of my freindship with Dave, Laurie and I still talk every once in a while. Her stories of T-Town are
    very interseting, she is a lucky lady to have known and walked the Grouse woods with both men.
    Great start to your Blog, thanks for the invite.