John Irick and Joe Turiciani pulled into Aspen Colorado on a rainy day in early September 1970. The pair was on the way home after a two week motorcycle tour of Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellow Stone before entering college at UNM in the fall. As the rain eased, the duo noticed that there was a large crowd of specta- tors surrounding the Aspens Commons fields. The Gen- tlemen of Aspen were hosting a Rugby match which was in full swing in spite of the rain. The boys had never heard of the sport much less seen it played. John was captivated.
While registering for classes the next week John saw an announcement in the UNM Daily LOBO that a group was forming the New Mexico Rugby Club, and all interested were to meet on Johnson Field for practice. This turned out to be the first Rugby practice in New Mexico.
Two weeks later the group traveled to Tucson, Arizona to play in a tournament. It was a brutal weekend with no wins and lots of scars. It was beautiful. It was the beginning of what would be a fifteen years love affair with the game, and a life long reverence to the meaning of the sport.
Over the next many years John saw the New Mexico Rugby club transition to the Albu- querque Aardvarks, the Santa Fe Rugby Club, The UNM Rugby Club, and the Brujos. In addition John saw the beginning of Women’s Rugby in New Mexico.
In 1972 John and fellow player Marty Fickle were drafted and had to leave New Mexico to serve in the Army. After returning the New Mexico Rugby Club had been renamed the Aardvarks and John would devote the next ten years to supporting the club. In 1978 John was recognized and elected President of the Club. That year the team advanced to the national semi finals, a feat not repeated until 2009 when they made the Final.
John’s primary position was # 8, but he could always be counted on to step into 2nd row as needed. His ability to “leap high” won many a line out and his open field coverage saw him in the action more often than not. John always said that he was never that good of a player, but a genuine love of teamwork allowed him to initiate plays by pro- viding rapid handoff to those who were better.
The most memorable Rugby game for John happened in the summer of 1972. Running from the draft, John had landed in Park City, Utah. He was helping a friend remodel a storefront into an Indian jewelry store and had hooked up with the Park City Rugby Club. During his stay in Park City the club had a scheduled match with the Tongans from the South Pacific. The Mormons missionaries had brought a group back from the South Pa- cific and they were attending classes at Brigham Young College in Provo, Utah. This match proved to be a most interesting game. First of all the Tongans had replaced tribal war- fare with Rugby and second, the physical structure of the scrum had men with bigger necks than their heads, and their heads were huge. As it turned out the altitude of the pitch ultimately favored the home team and the Park City team was ahead at whistle. That’s when it got real interesting. The Tongan women who were specta- tors suddenly joined the men folk in the fray. They too were equally endowed, and they came with 2X4’s. Suddenly the mayhem made the normal game chaos seem trivial.