In his final home game as coach of the Ohio State rugby team, Tom Rooney’s team displayed the toughness and rigidness of the coach’s more than 20-year career.
The Buckeyes lost to 10th-ranked United States Naval Academy, 23-18, on Saturday in a tightly contested and physical game. The night was more significant than the final score as the game served as a celebration and remembrance of Rooney’s career.
Sophomore scrumhalf Luke Hickey said the team will miss Rooney’s charisma and presence.
“You know when he’s on the field because he’s always chirping in your ear, helping you out and telling you what to do,” Hickey said.
Many in Columbus consider Rooney a Buckeye legend because of his resume. He was originally a wrestler at OSU and then played for the Columbus rugby team Scioto Valley RFC in 1982 where he was elected captain of the team. An injury forced him to redirect his focus on coaching in 1992 as an assistant with OSU. Rugby is not a Division I sport at OSU, but Rooney still made his presence known.
“In Ohio and the Midwest, he’s become a legend of the sport,” Hickey said.
Assistant coach Ron Bowers will take over the rugby program next year, and said he has learned a lot from working alongside Rooney.
“He’s taught me how to conduct myself as a professional and how to lead by example as a coach,” Bowers said.
Rooney was emotional after his final home game and talked about some of his favorite memories from coaching at OSU. He said he had a lot of memories, but his proudest moments were watching his team and players success over the years.
“I was an assistant for two final fours here, there have been 23 All-Americans from the program. I’ve also had two kids named to the National team, and I got to travel to watch them compete internationally and represent our country,” Rooney said.
Rooney said he was also proud of being involved with the development of the two rugby fields at the Fred Beekman Park. The university said it would turf the fields at the park but Rooney said the project has been delayed for the third time in a row.
Rooney said he would like to see that project completed in the near future because it will help the team overall.
“Not having the turf field is really going to make competition difficult for us,” Rooney said. “I think that’s a really unfair position for the university to have taken.”
Even on his last day on the job, Rooney was looking out for his team to help them any way he could. As Rooney walks away from coaching to take on an administrative position, The OSU rugby team thanked him for his commitment to the program for more than 20 years.
“We all loved playing for him and we’re really going to miss having him around here,” Hickey said. “OSU rugby and Coach Rooney go hand-in-hand.”