By Ray Hamill — Cal Poly Humboldt rugby will celebrate its 50th anniversary this weekend, with a day of special events planned for Saturday.
A number of former players have returned to the area for the milestone festivities, which come less than a year after the program won a first-ever national championship.
“It’s kind of incredible to see the outreach,” men’s team assistant coach Vincent Celotto said.
The Jacks club team will host three games at the Redwood Bowl on Saturday afternoon, followed by a celebration dinner and fundraising auction at Humbrews in Arcata later that evening, which will include inducting the team’s first Hall of Fame class.
The Jacks first competed in rugby in 1973 and have enjoyed a rich tradition since then while fielding competitive men’s and women’s teams, including the 2005 men’s squad which lost in the national championship game.
In 2022, the Jacks finally took home a national title when they defeated Wayne Sate 20-15 to win the National Collegiate Rugby small school’s title.
According to a press release on the weekend celebrations, “Cal Poly Humboldt RFC has consistently demonstrated its commitment to the sport and its student-athlete’s personal growth.
Saturday’s festivities get under way at 11:30 a.m. when the Humboldt Alumni face off against the Mendocino Steam Donkeys, before the current team plays its season opener against the University of Nevada, Reno, at 2 p.m.
That game should be a good test for the defending national small school champs who will be going up against a Division 1-AA program.
The Jacks, who are replacing six starters from their national championship team, are ranked No. 2 in the nation in the NCR Preseason Power 10 for the Men’s Small College division.
The third game of the day will be the women’s alumni game, which kicks off at 4:30 p.m.
The dinner and auction, which features more than $30,000 worth of items, will run from 6 to 10 p.m.
“It’s been a grass roots effort to make it happen,” Celotto said. “We’ve got a lot of guys working high up in local businesses and it’s brought a lot to the table.”
The money raised will go toward the team’s operating budget, including the Chris and Janet Byrne Scholarship Foundation, which is named after the team’s former longtime coach and offers scholarships to players.
Also this weekend, eight former Humboldt players will be inducted into the club’s Hall Fame and introduced to the crowd at the games.
Team officials have been working closely with the university in recent years and are excited about the possibilities and the direction the club is taking.
“The university is working with us and doing more for us,” Celotto said. “And they’re getting benefits for it. Obviously we performed and now we just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Team officials and coaches are also working on initiating local youth programs in the near future.