Men's Rugby 1980
photograph courtesy of the Dickinson College Archives

This is an action photograph of a match the Rugby Club played during 1980.  Rugby originated at Dickinson as a club sport in the late 1950s and early 1960s, beginning as many other sports which eventually became official varsity sports.  There were a number of reasons, however, why Rugby was not eventually recognized in this way.    One is that Rugby Football, languishing in the shadow of American Football, is not and has never been affiliated with the National College Athletic Association (NCAA).  In addition, Dr. Les Poolman, the current Director of Athletics at Dickinson College, states that Rugby has and will always be a club sport, in the sense that the sport itself , and the culture that surrounds it, is designed mainly for recreation rather than varsity competition.  Also, Dr. Poolman is of the personal opinion that Rugby will probably never be a popular game on anything but the club level in the United States  because American society seems to have a very low tolerance for non-stop action sports.

Rugby, though, maintained a steady following on the Dickinson campus for many years, helped along probably by the sport's infamous penchant for celebration after hard-fought matches.  But, in 1989, tragedy struck the Dickinson Club when Mel Fahnstock, a sophomore, broke his neck during a game and suffered permanent quadriplegic paralysis. On the neighboring Gettysburg campus, during this same time, a player suffered cervical injuries similar to Fahnstock's which he not survive.

Fahnstock's family eventually sued the College for negligence, specifically in its failure to provide professional coaching.  The College settled the case but already by then, in 1992, Dickinson had considered the liabilities involved and had decreed the end of the sport on the campus.  All efforts to revive the sport since have been turned aside.

Karim Yousef

Dr. Leslie Poolman, Director of Athletics and Chair of the Physical Education Department, Dickinson College
Dr. Robert Shank, Head Trainer, Dickinson College