Cowpie competition

Steamboat rugby team wraps up pool play with win

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— JoJo Bucci grew up playing football in Steamboat Springs.

He played high school ball and went on to play offensive line at Ithaca College in New York.

Last summer he returned to Steamboat and joined the rugby team.

One summer of rugby was all Bucci needed to convince him to quit football.

"I like the camaraderie and the friendships," Bucci said.

Saturday, Bucci scored one of Steamboat's two tries in a 12-10 victory over Fort Collins to wrap up pool play in the 29th annual Cowpie Classic.

The difference for Steamboat was 19-year-old Jake Silverman's two-point conversion kick after Chris McConnell's try in the first half.

Steamboat's first game Saturday was a forfeit. Its second was a 16-15 loss to Breckenridge. Earlier this summer, Breckenridge defeated Steamboat 39-0, giving some indication of the progress the Steamboat club continues to make in its efforts to rebuild the team.

Many people are responsible for Steamboat's improving play, including the core group of men who have stuck with Steamboat Rugby Club for the past several years.

But the addition of several new veteran players has made the biggest difference.

"Most of the guys hadn't had the proper training," Michael Hurley said. "They had a lot of potential. They just needed to be shown the light."

Hurley is from Australia, where rugby is "like the NFL" in the United States.

Australia is the defending world champion, but when Hurley moved to Steamboat in August, he was told to quickly forget about the World Cup and think about the Cowpie Classic.

He, along with players from New Zealand and England, provided instruction on support play, proper technique and defensive patterns, among other things.

"They had a lot to learn," Hurley said.

But it was welcome instruction, said Mark Hermacinski, president of the Steamboat Rugby Club. The newcomers blended well with the existing team, and together they have formed a club more organized and visibly improved since last year's Cowpie Classic.

The Cowpie Classic is one of Yampa Valley's oldest traditions. Surprising to some, Colorado is home to several outstanding rugby teams, including Aspen's, one of the premier clubs in the country.

The Cowpie Classic, in turn, draws highly skilled teams to the tournament every year, and 2003 has proven to be no different. The semifinals and finals will be played today at 10 a.m. at the Ski Town ball fields next to the Tennis Center off U.S. Highway 40.

Admission is free, and spectators are encouraged to attend.

After the finals, the famed cowpie trophy will be awarded to the champion.

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