When the Sarnia Saints Rugby Club was founded 60 years ago beer and brotherhood were the order of the day, an early member recalls.
Ray Rothenbury, 81, arrived in Canada from London, England, in 1961. After completing a doctorate at McMaster University, he moved to Sarnia to work for Dow Chemical and joined the Saints in 1963.
The team was comprised of Brits, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and a “token” Canadian, he recalled.
“People came from all walks of life” and included labourers, doctors, teachers and research candidates.
Rothenbury was a second row forward, and because he was tall and could jump his specialty was grabbing the ball out of the air as it was inbounded for the lineout.
The Saints often fielded a team that was short a guy or two because the sport just wasn’t popular, and they’d play wherever they could find a reasonably flat field.
Often that was at the still undeveloped Germain Park where the ground was like rock all summer, Rothenbury said.
When the Saints were granted their own field, behind Bluewater Splash Park, the players spent an entire Easter weekend laying the sod themselves.
Because they lacked a clubhouse, they allowed opposing teams to use their home showers before the two sides would get together and party.
“Rugby is a very partying atmosphere. We would have some beers and food and send them on their way,” he said.
Rothenbury played for the Saints 15 years then at the provincial level.
He didn’t stop playing until the age of 54, and then referred the game another 24 years.
“It was the time of my life,” he said. “I met so many good people. We all formed a group and we worked together on the field and we had fun off the field.”
Rugby in Sarnia began to grow when high schools added the sport to their program. The Saints volunteered as coaches and referees to ensure it succeeded, and it wasn’t long before graduating high school players were joining the Saints.
Rothenbury also got rugby into Lambton College, coaching there and at Northern Collegiate for ten years.
He was inducted into the Sarnia-Lambton Sports Hall of Fame as a builder in 1995.
Today, the Sarnia Saints program has about 200 players on two men’s teams, a women’s team and nine age groups for younger teams.
“The growth in the club has been phenomenal,” he said.
The club supports many charities and organizations and is known for its Pay It Forward program, which each year raises funds for a special cause.
This weekend, the club is hosting a special diamond anniversary celebration with a gala dinner, rugby matches and a golf tournament.
For more, visit sarniarugby.com