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College Rugby Mourns Curt Huckaby

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College Rugby Mourns Curt Huckaby

This remembrance of Curt Huckaby, who started the rugby program at Arkansas State and was its life force for many years, was submitted by Patrick Stewart of Arkansas State Univesity.

After a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, long time Arkansas State University coach Curt Huckaby died the morning of Monday June 20th, 2016. Coach Huckaby’s legacy on the rugby pitch is beyond compare. Learning the grand game at Chico State University during his undergraduate years, he continued to hone his skills at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville during law school before moving back to his family home in Northeast Arkansas. During his fourteen years of coaching in both the second and first division of college rugby, he notched a record of 144 wins, 83 losses and one draw. Under his leadership ASU’s rugby team made it to the Elite Eight every year they played Division 2 rugby with the exception of 2005, won the Plate National Championship in 2000, and were runners up in 2001, 2004, and 2007. Along the way, he coached sixteen All Americans and numerous regional select side players.

Coach Huckaby’s on-field record, while impressive, barely scratches the surface of his impact on those who played for and toiled alongside him. Nor does it do justice to how much effort and care he put into his players. I was fortunate to be his assistant coach from 1999 to 2007 and experienced first hand the many hours of labor that went into forging assemblages of young men into cohesive and coherent teams. This work went well beyond the three practices a week with games on Saturday most every fall and spring weekend to include a host of unsung and often under-appreciated exertions. Rarely did the young men playing the games and the fans on the sideline see the effort he put into coordinating games and travel, arranging scholarships and developing relationships with the University, providing advice both legal and personal, and often just listening to the concerns and woes of players with careful empathy. Summers for Coach Huckaby were often spent on the road either attaining the highest level of coaching certification or recruiting players from around the country; when at home in Jonesboro, the off-season was spent growing rugby from the grass roots upwards not only figuratively through his interactions with Midsouth coaches, players, and officials but also literally as he leveled, planted, and watered both ASU’s rugby pitches.

Coach Huckaby’s passing one day removed from Father’s Day while heartrending, can be seen as fitting, as more than anything family was everything for him. It was most visibly seen in the great joy he took in his wife Vicki, his children Matt, Curtis, and Ashley, and now his grandchildren. Family likewise pervaded his approach to the rugby team, with all his players treated like kin with respect, toughness, and humor. Every Sunday, after nearly every Saturday match, he and Vicki would host match video viewing parties where praising, ribbing, and laughter would accompany and underscore the lessons of teamwork and toughness. With often over twenty young men crammed into his living room, Coach Huckaby not only taught rugby, he forged a family of the often lost, confused (sometimes dazed), young men searching for meaning and connection.

Coach Huckaby realized that rugby provided a bridge to manhood by providing a family for these young men. To those who had loving fathers, he provided yet another outstanding ideal. To those of us lacking a strong paternal role model, he provided a living, laughing, loving example of how a man can exert power wisely, embrace flaws knowingly, overcome adversity gracefully, all while striving for the perfection relentlessly even as it eludes one’s grasp. While every young man that plays Arkansas State University rugby will be affected by Coach Huckaby’s contribution, those of us who knew the man personally will pass on a more lasting legacy, one of how to embrace mistakes with humor, strive ever harder.

Coach Curt Huckaby will be missed by all those who knew him. ​