Bricks of Brotherhood: TRFC Mural Celebrates 38 Years of Thunderbird Rugby with a Pledge to Many More

By, Kyle Hutchin and David J. Roman
“We wanted to celebrate the heritage of the rugby club on campus. You have to remember, TRFC is the oldest and only competitive sports team on campus. It’s also the largest and most involved alumni association [based on a campus club] with [around] 1,000 members.”
– Kyle Hutchin, primary architect of the TRFC Mural Project



The Legacy
“We had an idea that forming the rugby club would be a great way for us T-Birds to have some fun by competing on the field of play for our school and to enjoy each other’s company at the Pub. Most of us had never played before, but fortunately there was a core group of guys who had college rugby experience and the club came together in the Fall of ’76.

Almost 40 years later we are amazed that there is such a legacy that has been created.”
– Jim Emslie, Founding Member TRFC, Class of ‘77

“I played on the Alumni Rugby team, realizing that Rugby did not start until 1976. At that time (1972), I was playing for and with the Phoenix Rugby Club for many years. Our class helped develop the old Pub on campus….”
– John (Jack) Williamson Class of ‘72
Hutchin reflected, “I grew up hearing stories about TRFC from my dad (’78) and later my cousin (’03). While neither of them played, they always talked about the huge impact the rugby club had on the campus community. The pitch was often the site of concerts, the bartenders at the old pub were often ruggers…there was a lot about Thunderbird that was intertwined with TRFC.”
The Project
“We wanted to find a way the Rugby Club could give back to the school community and leave its mark. For everyone who has played with TRFC, ruggers espouse the professionalism, internationalism, competitiveness and team-focused nature of Thunderbirds…not to mention the diversity. Our team is a mix of nationalities and backgrounds. And while we haven’t had a team in recent years, for many years, there was also a women’s rugby team.”

Kyle Hutchin explained how the idea for the TRFC Mural Project began: “Before I started at Thunderbird, I visited Bondi beach in Australia. And if you haven’t been or seen it, the entire wall(s) that border the beach are covered in graffiti and murals. So I think that maybe was the initial spark for the mural idea.”
The team funded the Mural project by selling tiles around the border of the mural that sponsors can have engraved with names and messages—or even photos. “In about 3 weeks, we’ve raised commitments or collected over $7,000. The rugby alumni have really been crucial: TARA and its head Chuck Hamilton deserve a ton of credit for pushing this project.” The cost of the mural was around $6,000, and TRFC will use the surplus to support the team’s travel to the 2015 MBA Rugby World Cup this spring, hosted by Duke School of Business (Fuqua).

He continued, “The whole process has actually been rather emotional. The founding class of 76/77 and class of 84/85 have really stepped up, along with all the alumni, and we’ve been flooded with stories of camaraderie – I mean, you’re talking about guys who played rugby together 40 years ago, still keeping in touch – making this mural project a priority because they think it’s an opportunity to ‘cement in’ a part of the Thunderbird culture.”
“The tiles have provided an opportunity for the alumni to remember their fallen comrades and loved ones. Rather funny and joyous stories also have been shared. Just some of the photos that will go up are: photos of the women’s team, fantastic action shots from decades past, teams from the past 4 decades, Old Boys world tours, and local club teams the alumni play for now… The current team is buying a 12″ x 12″ tile that will be placed in the center of the mural between the banners featuring photos of the original 1976/77 founding team.”
Kyle expressed gratitude to the alumni, students, and staff that helped, highlighting several key contributors:
– Shannon Walker from the Thunderbird Archives provided numerous old rugby photos that were key in developing the design.
– Colin Agnew, who found a box of old photos and has been scanning it into the TRFC Facebook group
– Brian Lawler, the artist, was amazing. He worked his heart out on this project, and was just incredible. He really worked to capture the spirit of the school and the club.
– Rebecca Henriksen and Jim Harnden for helping in the project’s early stages
– Henry Ebarb for providing the introduction to Brian the artist
– Crystal Shanahan helped us coordinate so many different moving parts, and the Thunderbird Inn Staff deserve a ton of credit for taking care of Brian during his stay.
– Sam Giusa and the entire facilities team made sure our stucco work didn’t suck, primed and sealed the wall, and have dropped work to help us make sure this project was a success.
– Colin, Bryce, and Sean for all their input and help in the design process, stuccoing, being out there and coordinating stuff with Brian, they really crushed it.
– Hugo and Patrick for their midnight stucco work.
– The entire TRFC who worked hard to pull it off, and all the incredible alumni who supported the project.
The Pledge
“I think we as Thunderbirds have always been a bit of an underdog…people think, ‘a small school in the desert: what kind of MBAs/Masters graduates are they going to be?’ We always surprise our competition, and it’s the same with rugby. And the reality is that the TRFC has a rich history in the graduate rugby world, having started the International MBA Rugby Tournament that later moved to UT-Austin. TRFC has also placed second in the MBA Rugby World Cup at Duke, against Harvard, Yale, Wharton, SMU Cox, Smurfit (Dublin), Aussie teams, and others.”



“As we approach a difficult transition, and coming out of a difficult time where a lot of our school community was divided, the mural’s been something we can all appreciate. You can even appreciate it if you don’t play; it’s been a talking point for people, they loved being able to talk to the artist, and the alumni have loved seeing such an integral part of their experience cemented. Teams and referees at our recent TRI tournament all gave Brian and the mural a lot of compliments.”

“I honestly think the TRFC/alumni interaction has never been this active. Alumni are loving the opportunity to reminisce, and we love hearing their stories. In fact, we plan to hold a dedication ceremony in the spring at Rugby Alumni Weekend (March 6-8), with the head of TARA, members of the original founding 76/77 team, and hopefully 100+ alumni (our goal!).”


Chuck Hamilton, ’92, President of Thunderbird Alumni Rugby Association (TARA) says, “This mural project is just another example of the bond across the generations of Thunderbird Ruggers, as you’ll note the ’70s ‘grooming choices’ of the ball carrier. I know this will be well-received at RAW [Rugby Alumni Weekend] 2015, March 5-8.”
Jim Emslie adds, “We Founders are thrilled so many fellow T-Birds have continued what we started. The mural represents this legacy we all share. We were honored the player depicted is wearing a Founder’s jersey. We never thought it would be like this when we started, but we have all clearly shared the same thing out of it – competition and brotherhood.”


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