Baron Athletics

Rugby Turns 20

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Baron Athletics

Rugby Turns 20

Franciscan’s rugby team celebrates its 20th anniversary, showing “good Catholics can play a tough man’s sport.”

Autumn 2021

In This Article

It was fall 2001 when Jeremy Treece ’05, a Catholic convert, theology major, and fierce rugby player wanted to bring Christ to the sport of rugby by starting a Franciscan team. Former Athletic Director Chris Ledyard gave Treece a qualified yes, if he could find enough men to join the team.

Treece put up flyers, talked up the sport, and found 15 men, the bare minimum, and the program was born as a club sport.

The team had no money to pay a coach and no funds for rugby uniforms. A rejected shipment of Harvard University Business School jerseys served as their uniforms, minus numbers on the back.

Their first game, a loss, drew three Franciscan fans. But then rugby caught on as players and fans warmed to the team’s unique blend of sports and spirituality.

“Win, lose, or draw, from that very first game to today, we model Christ and always pray with the other team,” says Treece, who used the aftergame social as a moment to evangelize.

In their second season, over 30 men tried out for the team, pep rallies fueled fan interest, and the Barons started beating highly ranked opponents.

In 2007, the rugby team was admitted into the Allegheny Rugby Union where games count in the record books and playoff wins lead to championships. The program’s success showed Franciscan administrators that varsity sports could co-exist with Catholic, Franciscan values, and that was a factor in the 2007 decision to bring back intercollegiate varsity athletics. Today’s NCAA-Division III program numbers 19 men’s and women’s teams, plus rugby, which participates in National Collegiate Rugby.

“We built a strong foundation,” says Treece, now the CEO of National Collegiate Rugby. “We showed that good Catholics can play a tough man’s sport.”

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