Luther men’s rugby celebrates 50th anniversary


The current Luther rugby players and the “Old Boys” prep for a scrum during their match on Saturday, October 2. (Photo by Cassandra Hultgren)

On Saturday, October 2, Luther celebrated 50 years of men’s rugby. The event, which was part of Luther’s homecoming festivities, consisted of a scrimmage played by current players against the “Old Boys” — another name for the Luther rugby alumni. No official score was kept, and there were more members on each team than the traditional 15-man rosters of a normal rugby game. Spectators and players cheered along, caught up on life, and shared stories of their memories at Luther. It is tradition to have a social gathering after a rugby match, and Saturday was no different, as carloads of people headed over to Pulpit Rock Brewery after the event for drinks, pizza, and camaraderie.


Luther’s rugby program was once much bigger than it is now. When it was first established in 1971, the team was filled by many Norse athletes who did not have a year-round commitment to their sport. Those who played fall sports could play rugby in the spring, and often were encouraged to do so in order to stay in shape. Luther’s first rugby coach, Joseph “Doc” Callaghan, was on the Irish national rugby team and is credited with helping Luther rugby become so successful. Luther College Professor of Computer Science Paul Mattson (‘81) recalls how dominant the rugby team was when he first joined the team in spring of 1978.


“We would frequently beat Big Ten teams, and three years in a row we advanced all the way to the All-Iowa Tournament; all three years [Palmer Chiropractic school] beat us,” Mattson said. “We never won a championship, but we went to the Midwest Collegiate Cup in Ohio; we played tournaments in Missouri; in [Hammond, Louisiana] during Mardi Gras. We played seven-side tournaments during the summer, and we tended to do pretty well.”


Clint Christopher (‘97) is an alumni of the Luther rugby team who played in the scrimmage. Christopher is still close to the teammates he played with at Luther and appreciates the unique connections rugby allows people to build.


“Rarely do I run into someone and find out they played football, and then that leads into a bigger conversation,” Christopher said. “But when you talk about rugby, and somebody else has either had that experience or is connected to someone that does, there is an immediate conversation that always happens.”


Reihana Paewai (‘21) is the current captain of the rugby team. He echoed Christopher’s statement that the rugby community is very distinct, and being part of it has many benefits. Through rugby Paewai has been offered jobs by Luther alumni, been featured on a podcast about rugby, and even met some diplomats when he was invited to a viewing of the rugby World Cup while part of Luther’s Washington D.C. program. Paewai also loves the connections that are made between Luther’s rugby team and teams at other schools.


“There’s a beauty in [competing] for 80 minutes, and then traditionally having lunch and a beer with the other team,” Paewai said. “We were down in Clinton, Iowa the other weekend [playing] a big rival of ours [and] the games are really close and really physical. Ten minutes after almost getting in a fight with one guy, we had a beer together, and I’m friends with this dude now after almost beating him up. Can you imagine the football team having lunch with Wartburg after they play? It doesn’t happen in any other sport.”