FUS rugby ruckus back for 10th year

STEUBENVILLE – In its 10th year, the Robert D’Anniballe Rugby Ruckus has not only helped to raise funds for the Franciscan University of Steubenville rugby team, it also has helped to promote awareness of the sport itself as a growing number of students and community members turn out at Harding Stadium to cheer on the Barons.

The Barons took on Slippery Rock University, one of two teams that defeated the Barons last season.

The Rock won Sunday 19-14.

The Barons’ next game will be at Geneva College on Sept. 14. The team returns home for a match against Grove City College at 1 p.m. Sept. 21.

This was the first year the event was held on Labor Day weekend, with Sunday evening selected to avoid competing with local and college football, said Chris Ledyard, the university’s athletic director.

Area residents were invited to a pre-game tailgate party outside the Stanton Building nearby.

As the time for kickoff approached, many university students, including some who had painted their faces in the school’s colors, and area residents of all ages entered the stadium.

Among them were members of the late businessman Robert D’Anniballe’s family, who were treated to snacks in the press box.

Ledyard noted the event is named for D’Anniballe because he provided funds for the team to compete in the Sweet 16 tournament in 2001, its second year.

School officials hadn’t expected the team to be so successful, so no money had been budgeted for it to compete in the national collegiate rugby tournament in Dayton. The team has been to the tournament three times since.

With the 2001 tournament just two weeks away, David Skiviat, the university’s vice president of finance, spoke of the problem to D’Anniballe, a good friend and longtime supporter of the school who offered to pay for the trip.

The story goes that when plans for the first Rugby Ruckus in 2005 were made, a player who had been on that team suggested naming the event for D’Anniballe, who had died that year following a lengthy battle with heart problems.

D’Anniballe’s first wife, Antoinette, also is memorialized through the event’s Man of the Match Award, which is given to the game’s most valuable player as determined by the team’s coaches.

A scholarship to Franciscan is given each year in their name to an outstanding local student, with first preference given to a registered nurse who has graduated from the Trinity Health System School of Nursing.

The founder of Ambulance Service Inc. of Steubenville and other local businesses, D’Anniballe was appointed by two governors to the Ohio Emergency Services Commission and served on the Jefferson County Health Board, among many other civic boards.

D’Anniballe’s grown children – Robert Jr., Don, Lynn and Karen – were among many who turned out for the game. It has become a yearly family get-together, said Karen.

“It’s a good way to remember him,” she said.

Asked if she was familiar with rugby when the event was begun, Karen replied, “Not at all.” But she added she and her family have become fans since.

“It’s very interesting to me,” she said.

Andrew Kay, who played on the rugby team before his graduation last year, said many on the team came to rugby as newcomers but that is changing.

Kay, who served as announcer for Sunday’s game, said some of the team’s current roster played rugby in high school.

“It’s kind of grown around the country and become more popular,” he said.

Kay, who now serves in the Army at Fort Hood, Texas, acknowledged the sport has a reputation for being rough. Old-school football without pads or helmets, some have said.

Asked if he was ever injured, Kay said his hand was fractured during practice his last year.

“I was pretty lucky. I didn’t beat too bad,” Kay said.

But asked if he misses playing with the Barons, he replied, “I miss it tremendously.”