Thursday, June 5, 2014

Back Where it All Began

This year's girls National Championship Tournament took place in Pittsfield, Mass.   How fitting that after 17 years of Wisconsin girls rugby, the game ended up in the hometown of the founder of the girls game in our state.

Back in the 1996-1997 school year A Latin and English teacher at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School named Dan Chanen was playing rugby for the Milwaukee Rugby Club.  A hooker who first played flyhalf for Berkshire in his college days, Chanen grew up in Pittsfield, Ma.   His parents still live there today. 

When Chanen's teacher career began, he occassionally referenced the game during stories and examples with students.  Eventually, a spark was lit and some girls approached him about starting a team.  The school even approved of the idea, initially sanctioning the team as a school club, outside the athletic department.  One wonders if the administration knew what rugby was.   A decade later, rugby would become arguably the most successful sport in the school, with the school's longest tenured coach, John Klein, now in his 15th year at DSHA.

Chanen grew DSHA from about 8 players, through the tough years of scrimmaging college sides, to a consistent championship team.  He then went on to help get Kettle Moraine off the ground, the second team in WGR, before moving on again to help save and rebuild Brookfield, leading them to a national championship tournament appearance, and ending with founding his latest new program, Wauwatosa.   He continues to help the girls game as a full-time ref for the league, put some time in to helping get youth rugby going, and acts as WGR President.

Chanen played a significant role in hosting the first girls National Championship tournament in Milwaukee. He put together the event program and helped bring different teams and groups together for an all tournament banquet. 15 years later, the event has more than doubled in size.

One of the many memorable moments of this year's girls National Tourament was at the opening ceremony.  Chanen's parents attended the opening ceremonies, and received a standing ovation.
What was really cool was that they attended all the games that weekend, going to every match played by a Wisconsin team.  After seeing Chanen's first DSHA team play back in the 90's they were astounded to see how big an event it had become, how good and diverse the teams were, and the impact that the experience had on everyone involved.

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