Reviving the Thunderbird Rugby Club: A Tale of Tradition, Camaraderie, and Renewed Connections

In the colorful words of Jim Emslie, a seasoned Thunderbird Rugby Club member who proudly traces his roots back to its inception in 1976, we find a touch of humor and camaraderie. Jim reminisces, “They asked me, ‘Have you ever played rugby before?’ And I said, ‘No, but I’d like to know. I understand they drink a lot of beer.'” With this lighthearted remark, Jim encapsulates the very essence of the Thunderbird Rugby Club, a treasured institution within the Thunderbird community.

The Thunderbird Rugby Club, born in 1976 on the hallowed grounds of the Glendale Thunderbird campus, began as a modest venture that would soon transcend barriers. It seamlessly brought together students from diverse backgrounds, spanning both rugby novices and seasoned professionals of the sport. What started as a humble endeavor swiftly evolved into a dynamic networking platform, weaving formal connections as well as fostering friendships that transcended the field.

In the backdrop of the relatively isolated Glendale Thunderbird campus of the 1970s, the annual rugby match emerged as a highlight of the academic calendar, drawing an ardent following. This spirited enthusiasm rippled beyond Glendale’s confines as MBA program teams from across the nation converged, adding a layer of prestige and tradition to the Thunderbird Rugby Invitational tournament—an event that had now become an integral part of Thunderbird’s identity.

However, the Thunderbird Rugby Club’s impact stretched far beyond the boundaries of the rugby field. It was a catalyst for human connections that birthed a unique set of initiatives. Enter the “Old Boys,” a dedicated group of Thunderbird alumni. These passionate individuals, driven by a shared love for rugby and Thunderbird spirit, not only played alongside current students but also collaborated with the Alumni club to create a nonprofit organization. This venture allowed them to journey to unconventional corners of the globe, competing with local management schools and, in the process, inadvertently raising awareness about their host countries and their potential.

Their rugby escapades took them to remarkable destinations such as Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Montenegro, and Cuba, often during times of socio-political tension. They became carriers of the true Thunderbird Spirit, spreading goodwill and friendship wherever they ventured.

Now, in the year 2023, the Thunderbird Rugby Club finds itself at a crossroads. Mbugua Wainaina, its current President, and his team pillars – Matt Dermino and Mohammad Asim have stepped up to not only breathe new life into the club but also to nurture its legacy of building enduring connections. Inspired by heartwarming conversations with alumni who returned to play rugby during the Rugby Alumni Weekend in March 2023 and were the backbone of the revival of the club, Mbugua seeks to rekindle the sense of joy and camaraderie he experienced during his youth in South Africa.

Mbugua firmly believes in the unifying power of rugby, seeing it as a force that can bring together individuals from all walks of life. His vision is one of inclusivity, where the Thunderbird experience is enriched for everyone, irrespective of gender, skill level, or familiarity with the sport. This inclusive outlook perfectly mirrors the ethos of the Thunderbird community.

The revival journey began with a lively pub night on August 31, followed by a practice session at Verde Park on September 2. This park, conveniently located just a five-minute walk from the Thunderbird Building in Downtown, served as a meeting ground for rugby enthusiasts and curious onlookers from the Thunderbird student community. It was more than just a practice; it was a platform for forging lifelong friendships and perhaps even giving rise to the legendary initiatives for which the Thunderbird Rugby Club is renowned.

As the Thunderbird Rugby Club embarks on this exciting new chapter, it does so with tradition, camaraderie, and inclusivity at its very core. This endeavor serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of Thunderbird—a legacy rooted in fostering connections, celebrating diversity, and embracing the spirit of adventure. We invite you to be a part of this heartwarming journey, one that promises to leave an indelible mark on the Thunderbird community.


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