USA Rugby, New Mexico and the 1924 Olympics

With all of the excited talk about the inclusion of rugby in the 2016 (I believe) Olympic Games, I wanted to take a moment for us to remember the last time rugby was in the Olympics, and the New Mexico link to that team.

Norman Cleveland was his name, and kicking ass in rugby was apparently his game. While being born in California (a sin that we can forgive of most people these days), Cleveland spent much of his youth growing up in the countryside around the small village of Datil, New Mexico.  By a happy coincidence, Cleveland ended up studying mining engineering at Stanford University (instead of the eminently more logical choice of attending what was then known as the New Mexico School of Mines, now New Mexico Tech). 

It was during his time at Stanford that he started playing rugby and ended up as part of the 1924 U.S. Olympic Rugby team. To be fair, the national team was essentially made up of the Stanford Rugby team.  That team went on to beat both France and Romania, the only two other nations to enter teams in the Olympic rugby competition.

(Really?  Really?? No Ireland or Scotland? Nothing from England, the birthplace of Rugby??)

Cleveland also caused a bit of a stir in New Mexico in his later years, when he wrote a book about his family’s move to New Mexico to manage one of the Land Grants in the state, and the assertion that his grandfather’s death had to do with an organization known as the “Santa Fe Ring” in a grab for power in the late 19th century.

For those who have read this far, and are still interested, the “Santa Fe Ring” was made up of politically connected lawyers and land dealers that got rich off of fraudulent land dealings in what was then the “New Mexico Territories” (New Mexico didn’t become a state until 1912).  For movie buffs, part of the battles with the Santa Fe Ring had to do with the Lincoln County Wars, and are semi-fictionalized in a little movie called “Young Guns,” starring Emilio Estevez.

But back to Cleveland – after an exciting life that included arming people in Malaya to protect some of his mining operations during the 50’s, and pissing off a couple of U.S. Senators (you might have heard of them, Bobby Kennedy and John F. Kennedy) as well as then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson – he found himself in New Mexico’s mountainous capital city, Santa Fe, where he continued to play rugby and was considered a life member of the Santa Fe Rugby Club until he died in 1997, at the age of 96.

(Most of this information was caught by scratching around the web, if New Mexico rugby peeps have any corrections or additions, please let me know! – B)

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