Thank you, and Onward!

2022 Santa Monica National Semi-Finalists

2022 Men’s National Semi-Final Recap

2022 National Club Championship

ATLANTA — We didn’t get the result we wanted in today’s semi-final against Charlotte.

The final score was 27-33.

A converted try would have won it for us, but Charlotte were able to maintain possession in the closing minutes, even as we had them back behind their 22 for much of that time.

In 2004, Santa Monica went all the way to Pittsburgh and lost the semi-final against the Boston Irish Wolfhounds in a similarly close match. The team bounced back from that, and then won the championship in 2005 and 2006. I feel like this is the team and these are the players that are destined and determined to repeat that cycle. Onward.

So, this is my end-of-season email update… read on if you have some time to spare.

I am so unbelievably proud of what we were able to accomplish as a Club coming out of Covid, with the challenges we had for fields and finances, and the challenges the individual players have faced in their day-to-day lives.

It’s a cliche to say that these were unprecedented times, but frankly — as someone who has now played rugby for over 30 year — none of us “Old Boys” went through the bullshit these young men and women have had to go through to get back to playing the game they love.

Stephen Stagg has been a fearless and inspiring coach for the men’s team this season. I am in awe of his quiet confidence, and his ability to bring the guys together. We also have a core group of senior guys who led from the front in building back the team culture, both on and off the field. (Men’s team president Tom Burley has picked up the administrative reins and made sure we played within the Byzantine rules of what-is-whatever-now-is-formerly-USARugby.)

Not only did our men’s team bounce back with a run at nationals, but we also fielded an exuberant D3 side that has reinvigorated the Club in ways I can’t even count. Our pipeline of new players from UCLA, USC and LMU is flowing again, and our successful U18s are sending guys straight into the senior side as we did before.

But there’s a whole lot more to be proud of.

Starting with summer 7s, our women’s team has grown to be the strongest I can remember.

They finished 2nd in SoCal, and given the structure of women’s Division 1 rugby in the USA right now, they were just one game away from the national semi-finals, as well.

Coaches TJ Olsen and Tevita Hala’ufia have elevated the level at practice and in games such that Santa Monica is now THE destination club in greater Los Angeles for women’s rugby.

But it’s also the culture that matters here, too, and we have the women’s team leadership to thank for creating a welcoming, supportive and inclusive culture that’s set the standard for the entire organization. In particular, women’s team president Anna Kobara’s fierce advocacy for our club and for women’s rugby in SCRFU is going to continue to elevate the game in the coming season.

Under the leadership of Beth O’Rourke, and with a small army of SMRC’s greatest hits, the youth program ages 8-to-18 is back on track.

John Ruud has continued to coach the U18s, and revived the tradition of pre-season touring; this year going to Washington, DC, to play a couple of classic high school programs. And while the men’s team were in Atlanta this weekend, the U18s finished the season hosting perennial powerhouse Danville, CA, at home at Samohi under the lights. You have to play the best to be the best, and Santa Monica HS boys look to make their mark next season by taking a run at nationals for the first time in many years.

Like I said, the youth coaches list has been reading like a who’s who of Santa Monica Rugby — Brian O’Rourke, Brad Palmer, Dominic Riebli, Aaron Blatt, Steve Bagnara, Ray Lavoie, Diane Watanabe, Danny Beattie, Bobby Hacker, and more. But we are always looking for former players to help coach and give back to the game in all age brackets. If you’re local, even if you don’t have a kid that’s playing, check in with the youth program this next season.

I’ll try to wrap this up by saying again (and again) that I am grateful to the past players, the friends and family, and the current teams for continuing to believe in Santa Monica Rugby and for making our postseason fundraising drive a success. We faced massive costs with this trip to Nationals, and the extended Santa Monica family stepped up massively. Thank you, thank you.

We’re heading into our 50th Anniversary Season, officially kicking off in September. We’ve got teams headed to Aspen, and a postponed Hall of Fame banquet to get rescheduled. Bobby is going to get the golf tournament going again, and there will be other opportunities to celebrate our shared history. Onward.

So, just a quick anecdote to close…

I had a long talk with old boy Bobby Thrussell recently on the phone. He and Dave Stephenson are putting together a book of the history of Santa Monica. All of the “original originals”, plus everyone since, have been sending in stories and photos. It’s going to be a huge and fascinating read when it’s done.

But one thing we couldn’t quite get a line on was how a club, with no clubhouse and no field, in a city that is as transient and expensive and everchanging as any in the world, could carry on as we have, now for 50 years.

Bobby and I came to this conclusion: it’s because Santa Monica Rugby is a “state of mind”.

And we’re not saying it like some New Age mumbo jumbo.

But really, anybody who’s ever played for Santa Monica, whether it was one season or twenty, always seems to say stuff like “…I remember that time I was playing for Santa Monica…” in a way that you don’t hear them talk about other clubs they played with.

So, this season more than ever before, I’m glad you’re keeping us in your state of mind.

Thank you, and Onward.

Steven Johnson
President, Santa Monica Rugby Club