On May 6, Bowling Green State University and the BGSU Rugby Football Club renamed College Park Rugby Field after longtime BG rugby patriarch Roger Mazzarella.
Starting in the fall of 2023, BGSU rugby home games will be played at Roger Mazzarella Rugby Field.
To coincide with the field renaming ceremony, BG Mayor Michael Aspacher announced that the city declared May 6, 2023 as “Roger Mazzarella Day.”
“This has been the work of several BGSU rugby alumni, their families, rugby fans, and people who want to honor Roger,” said Kurt Weaver, a BGSU rugby alumnus and retired USA Rugby referee.
“He’s spent six decades making BGSU rugby one of the premiere clubs in the U.S., and naming the field after him repays about one-one thousandth of what he’s given us.”
As a freshman on campus in 1968, Mazzarella joined the brand-new rugby football club and never looked back. He graduated four years later and began a 35-year career teaching seventh grade science at BG Junior High.
Mazzarella played rugby full time until 1985 when he took over head coaching duties, a position he kept until passing the torch to his son, Tony, in 2008.
Since then, Roger has been the director of rugby operations and primary recruiter, seeing his time and effort culminate in a national championship in 2018.
Following the field ceremony was the annual BGSU rugby alumni game and cookout, and then a gala honoring Mazarella’s contribution to BGSU rugby was held that evening at Olscamp Hall on BGSU’s campus.
Mazzarella said the love and support of his wife Martha, his son Tony, his daughter-in-law Marny and his granddaughter Amelia made his career and that day possible.
The event drew the attention of State Senator Theresa Gavarone, Mazzarella’s uncle flew in from Colorado, his cousin came from Cleveland, and his sister and brother-in-law were present.
But just as important to Mazzarella were the 200 BGSU rugby alumni who were present.
“One of the great things is rugby is this kind of community that sticks together,” Mazzarella said.
“As soon as the Findlay rugby club found out that this was taking place, they immediately called and said, ‘We want to play in that game,’ because so many of those guys played for Bowling Green or are friends with Bowling Green players.
“Their coach and founder down there, we’ve known each other 53 years. It was a fantastic time.”
Crossing Poe Ditch
Mazzarella had to give four speeches that day, including one to the BGSU board of trustees, one to guests attending a hall of fame ceremony the night before, at the renaming ceremony Saturday morning, and at the gala Saturday evening.
Saturday morning, Mazzarella took the opportunity to talk about BGSU’s first rugby field before it was moved to its current location.
“Originally, we had three guys, and one of them is still alive, Roger Holliday, and he and two other guys went to Sam Cooper, who at that time was the head of health and PE, where club sports used to be, and said, ‘Hey, we want to have a rugby team. What do we have to do?’” Mazzarella said.
“Well, he didn’t know anything about rugby, so he called up his friends at Ohio State and said, ‘Tell me about rugby,’ and the guy said, ‘Well, if you’re going to pick a field for him, put it as far away from the rest of the students as possible.’
“So, we ended up on the corner of Poe and Mercer out there. We were all the way out there. The closest building was Kreischer Quad, which was probably three-quarters of a mile away.
“The field was bordered on two sides by the actual Poe Ditch, and the only way we could get over to the field was the B Team, the second team players, had to go out there early and throw railroad ties to the ditch, so the A Side players would not get their feet wet.”
Established in 1968 by Air Force Academy veteran Tim Fox; Ohio State transfer Jerry Nicolosi; and Holliday, a British ex-pat, Bowling Green became the fifth member of the Ohio Rugby Football Union just as rugby began its growth spurt that continues to this day.
Today, the BGSU rugby club is considered one of the top ten rugby programs in the United States.
With an average membership of 80-plus members, the BGSU RFC fields five squads each season with each squad typically posting nine wins for every loss.
At the same time the club has been embraced by the university as a quasi-varsity sport with a home game fan attendance that easily makes it the fourth most watched sport on campus.
“For it being a club sport and for the vast majority of its history, you know we were no different than the French Club or the choir or something like that,” Mazzarella said.
“I think we’ve done a fantastic job of elevating it. Certainly, the university has now seen the value in it,’ Mazzarella continued.
“President (Rodney K.) Rogers likes rugby, he stops by a game once-in-a-while and he was instrumental in hiring Bill Switaj, the head of club sports now, and they have an initiative that they want to make club sports at least a little bit more than it was before.
“They started out with nine (club sports) and they started paying those nine coaches, so where we were all doing it for free before. My son is actually getting paid now.”
( — includes BGSU press material)