Virginia Cardinal Rugby
standing L to R JK Kamauff,Will Thornton,Keith Wright,Tome Sarisky,Jerry Gilfoyle,James Painter,Mike Old,Steve Walter,Reggie Tift,Lance Vandecastle,Mike Herron,John Carr,Alan Larivee,Cajun,Cheeko,Steve Burgess,Jeff Bush
Knelling L to R Chip Fenn,Lex Macubbin,Mike Puopolo,Tatonka,Marc Butler,Tom West,Terry Lee,Tim Spruill,Terry Whelan,
sitting in front Hennie

The Cardinals swept the 45 division with four victories the weekend of Aug 5,6,7,2005 at the Saranac CanAm. This extradinary success is in the wake of Championship honors in Ft.Lauderdale and The Commonwealth Cup earlier this year. The success of this side was based upon superlative ball retention skills with the flankers,six strong, that rotated in to secure the ball in the tackle zone and generate penalities in their favor for Hennie,world class kicker,fullback,and former Currie Cup veteran to slot points. Outstanding and dominant scrummaging orginating from former Eagle Terry Whelan,former ERU hooker,Tim Spruill, and longtime player and legend Keith Wright and former ERU select Marc Butler. Special recognition to Tatonka,Matt Szkotak, super league prop from Philly Whitemarsh for his solid contributions.

The backline,lead by Mike Puopolo, sacrificed a lot of glory,played a disiplined safe approach,kept the ball close,and played a lot of defense in the first three matches. Magnificent defense from Will Thornton,Terry Lee,Mike Herron,and anyways James Painter was onto everything.

This is a trully special side by any standard associated with master rugby. The side derives power and strength from a long tradition going back to Norfolk's glory in the early 80's as semi-finalists in the National Club finals,the only side that was 100% American born and raised. The gamesmanship of the Philly Boys and their long tradition of excellence and achievement as a premier club is evident. We have to recognize Mike Puopolo's leadership and keen tactical ability to keep The Boys directed forward in the most efficient and devastating way.

Got to mentiona Tom West,stalwart hooker,rumored to be in his 7th decade on planet Earth giving Tim Spruill needed break time during play.

The Lake Saranac Boys were defeated 17-nil in the final with a comprehensive victory. Mike P.,opened up the offense and let it hang out in the wind, The Cardinals were rewarded with a final victory that no one can question. Lake Saranac showed great sportsmanship and invited the side into the Bud Tent for fine post match hospitality.

This side has an opportunity to make a little history by completing the year with much success in Aspen. Next month.

Will Thornton cruises in for the dot down after receiving ball from Hennie on the turf observing the fruit of his effort,JK and Chip in support

This file needs photography? Please send Cary your favorite images of that week,Thanks! Send your emails with first person reflections--will be delighted to include in this file for historical purposes

Saranac Lake 2005
61 official awards for events, people, observations and places of the 2005 Saranac Lake Experience:

Best Aged Beef: Tom West

Best Unseen Uppercut to the Chin: Tom Sarisky (nice headbutt too)

Quickest Defender of Team Honor: Steve Walters

Best Pure Cardinals Rookies (And Welcome to the Team): Reggie Tift and Tatonka

Most Confident: Tim Spruill

Best Run off a Kickoff: JK Kamauff

Best Hands in a Lineout: Mike Old

Best Non-Rugby Sports Show: The Whelan family catching the Wednesday night Ice Dancing Championships live at the Lake Placid Olympic Center

Best Birthday Weekend Ever: Jeff Bush (his quote)

Best Support by Another Team: Virginia RFC, with their tents and cheering on Sunday

Best Rugby All-Star Offspring: Tyler MacCubbin (Good luck making the USA U-19’s squad!)

Best Hors’ Douvers Selection: Smoked Trout at Cameron’s on Saranac Ave in Lake Placid

Farthest Traveler: Dane Cheek

Most Disappointed with the Shortness of the Thursday Night Practice: Marc Butler (har, har)

Best Early Juice Getting a Team Hotel Set Up For the Weekend with Reasonable Rates and Urging Others to Make Their Reservations but Forgetting to Do So Yourself Until It Was Too Late and the Place Was Booked Solid and You Then Had to Get a Room Reservation Somewhere Else: John Carr

Strongest Lineout Lifters Anywhere: All four of our props

Best Time Keeper: Brian “Baby Spruill”

Coolest Kids from Virginia: Schuyler and McKenzie Whelan

Most Enjoyable Experience Having the Folks Meet the Rugby Team for the First Time: Bethany Puopolo

Best Kit Bag: Keith Wright

Best Step-by-Step Ritual in Packing Down as a Second Row: Gerry Gilfoyle

Most Impressive Tries: Tatonka and Will Thornton

Most Deceiving Swerve: Terry Lee

Celebrating the Most Wedding Anniversaries during the Saranac Lake Weekend: Lance Van de Castle and Karen Cordray-Van de Castle (5 out of 22, but two trips without her)

Coolest Rugger/Surfer: Alan Larivee

Best Slam-Down-to-the-Mat-with-the-Piledriver-Move-After-the-Bear-Hug-Tackle-And-Ending-Up-Hurting-Your-Own-Ribs-Play: Terry Whelan

Best Free Instrumental Music: The Big Dice Quartet at the Tail-of-the-Pup (nice CD)

Best Personable Knowledge of Every Referee: Lex MacCubbin

Most Enjoyable Week of Camping After the Tournament Savoring the Victory and the Adirondack Experience: Mike “Cajun” and Heather Bermes

Most Likely to Win Every Lineout Thrown at Him: Mike Old and Gerry Gilfoyle

Best and Most Accurate Depiction of an ER Doctor On the Sidelines After the Match Fixing up a Beaten Opponent: Chip Fenn

Best Kicker On Championship Sunday: Hennie van Zyl

Only Brought His Forward Boots So He Was Not Excited to Play In the Backs: Mike Herron (although he did say he could)

Favorite Ice Cream Shop: Mountain Mist on Saranac Ave in Lake Placid

Best One Hour On A Boat: Spending a nice Adirondack Friday afternoon taking a 16 mile narrated tour all around Lake Placid on the Doris II (Did you know 70% of the Great Camps on Lake Placid are only accessible by water?)

Closest Impression of Gibraltar: Any version of our front row (How would you like to pack down against 750 pounds (+/-) of beef all day?)

Working with a Personal Trainer to Sculpt Those Abs and Legs: John Carr

Best Team Organizer and Unsung Hero: Mike Puopolo

Biggest Biking Family: The Whelan’s

Biggest Climbing and Bobsledding Family: The Kamauff’s

Best Wheels on One Leg: Will Thornton

Most Filling Breakfast: Saranac Sourdough on Saranac Ave in Lake Placid

Most Creative Lineout Calls: Lance Van de Castle

Most Unfortunate Tournament-Ending Injury: Steve Burgess

Closest Resemblance to a NFL Fullback: Tatonka

First to the Rucks (and Meaning It): James Painter

Best Late Night Meal (but only in a car): The McDonald’s on Saranac Ave in Lake Placid

Best Save on Getting the Illegal Walk-Up Crowd into a Car to Get Their Late Night Order from the McDonald’s Drive-thru on Saranac Ave in Lake Placid Just Before Closing After Returning to the Hotel From Seeing the Folks: Bethany Puopolo

Remember It Because It Is A Play You Don’t See Very Often: Penalty try against the Saranac Lake MOB

Best Crashing Back: Will Thornton

Thanks to the Stalwart Cardinals Supporters: Karen, Tommy, Brian, Gay, Bethany, Darby, Tyler, Heather, Eileen, McKenzie, Schuyler, Kathy, Alison, Chip’s brother and sister-in-law, Susan, Tory, Tory’s younger sister

Most Vocal and Ardent Woman Supporter: Tommie Old

Most Eastern European Waitresses: Tail-of-the-Pup

Most Welcome Group Addition Back into the Cardinal Fold: the Philly-Whitemarsh Gang (Sarisky, Gilfoyle, Tatonka, Butler)

Most Serious and Best Pre-game Inspirational Talk: Terry Whelan

Thanks From the Team For Your Pizza Order on Sunday Night: JK Kamauff

Best Hospitality and Understanding at a Team Hotel: Anna, her husband and her staff at the Town and Country Motor Inn

Closest Resemblance to an Angel: Karen Cordray-Van de Castle for putting up with Lance for over a quarter of a century

Most Versatile Back and Leading Try Scorer (2): Jeff Bush

Best Quality Depth: All of the forwards

Highest Scorer (and This Writer’s Choice for Team MVP): Hennie van Zyl with 38 points (7 out of 9 conversions and 8 penalty kicks)

By Lance Van de Castle

With last year’s disappointing semifinal loss in the back of their mind and the front of their mind occupied with the keen desire to continue their winning ways of 2005, the Virginia Cardinals rugby team came to Saranac Lake, NY with one simple vision – to claim the elusive over-45’s Can-Am Championship. When the dirt finally settled on a hot Sunday afternoon, the mission was accomplished. After conquering four tough opponents by a combined total of 83 points for to only 11 against, the over-45’s Cardinals had earned their third straight championship plaque of calendar year 2005.

In chronological order, the Cardinals vanquished the Montreal Lions by a score of 15-6, crushed the Brockport Doggies 33-0, thrashed the Wilmington (Del) Old Boys 18-5 in the semifinals and then beat the host team, the Saranac Lake Mountaineers Old Boys (MOB), in the championship match by the score of 17-0. In the final, the Cardinals came under early pressure but were able to get on the scoreboard first in the latter part of the first half when wing Terry Lee was taken down about five meters from the try line while chasing down a grubbed kick. The referee correctly awarded the rare penalty try which fullback Hennie van Zyl converted for a 7-0 lead. Hennie added a penalty kick several minutes later for a 10-0 lead that the Cardinals maintained until halftime.

The second half brought on more of the same tendencies that brought the Cardinals to the final – strong support across the pitch, no missed tackles, hard driving in the rucks and total command of our lineouts and scrums. The strong defensive pressure exerted on the Saranac backline paid off late in the 22 minute half when an errant MOB pass near the Cardinals 30 was picked up on the bounce by outside center Will Thornton. With a clear open field ahead of him, Will took off as fast as his injured leg would carry him. Upon correctly realizing that the cover defense was finally going to catch him, Will offloaded a pass outside to a supporting Hennie, who carried the ball some ten meters before cutting back inside and then passing back inside to a following Will, who was able to touch down for the well deserved and heavily applauded try. Hennie’s subsequent conversion capped the scoring at 17-0 and the MOB never really threatened after that score.

MOB, which had won last year’s over-45 championship for their club’s first ever Can-Am crown in any division in over 31 years of trying, had outscored its first two opponents on Friday (Akron and the Jersey Old Stars) by a combined score of 46-10. They ended up with the number one seeding in our bracket based on the fact that they had scored eight tries in their first two games versus the seven that the Cardinals scored. MOB then dispatched Blackthorn, 12-5, in their Sunday morning semifinal in a rematch of last year’s 6-3 championship game. Blackthorn was the team that had eliminated the Cardinals in last year’s semifinals.

MOB’s potent backline, featuring Scotty Norris from the winning Ft. Lauderdale Cardinal team, never really got untracked as our back defense was solid and steady and their forwards were seemingly going backwards at almost every set play, be it a lineout or a scrum. After losing the ruck battle in the game’s first five minutes, the Cardinals’ superior forward depth paid off as almost every ruck ball after that initial time seemed to be coming out on the side of the Cardinals. The Cardinals had more than two complete packs of forwards and came ready to play with a squad of 27 that traveled by car and plane from seven different states.

Counting their last seven matches at Can-Am prior to this year’s championship game, Saranac had been doing a lot of scoring at a rate of almost 29 points per match and were pretty stingy on defense too, only giving up less than five points an outing. They had only conceded 19 points in their four game run to the 2004 crown and we scored 17 against them in our game and obviously shut down their offense too.

To get to the final of the twelve team over-45 bracket, the Cardinals had to win two games on Friday, which was the first time in the 32 year history of the Can-Am Championship that matches were played on days other than just Saturday and Sunday. First on the block at 11 am was Montreal. The Canadians had a large pack, mobile backs and provided probably the toughest competition of the weekend. The Cardinals got early scoring from wing Jeff Bush, who would celebrate his 48th birthday the next day, and from the boot of Hennie. Jeff scored a try in the corner, just beating the tackle to the flag, while Hennie converted that touchline try and made a penalty kick later for the Cardinals’ first half points. Montreal made two penalty kicks for a 10-6 Virginia advantage.

Sensing that the outcome of the match was in doubt with that narrow lead and feeling that he needed to make something happen, prop Matt “Tatonka” Szkobak did exactly that after getting back in the match about halfway through the second half. A deep Montreal lineout throw was taken by second row Lance Van de Castle who drove forward, literally handing off to wing forward Mike Herron, who drove forward into a ruck. The ball was won by the Virginia forwards and a short pass to Tatonka saw him run straight up the gut with but two defenders to beat. Showing the leg drive that reminded one of John Riggins or Larry Csonka, Tatonka’s powerful thighs shed one would-be tackler and his forward drive forced the other tackler to the ground as he touched down after an awesome twenty five meter run. Although Hennie missed the conversion, the Cardinals had taken command of the match at 15-6. Montreal could not mount any serious attack after that and Virginia was on to their next match, a late 6 pm kick-off.

The Brockport Doggies, a team that usually brings four or five sides to Saranac every year, was hurting for bodies in their over-45’s match and the Cardinals had to wait for what seemed like fifteen to twenty minutes after the scheduled kickoff time for them to get enough people for a game. Obviously playing without any quality depth, it was to be a long day for Brockport as they got pounded 33-0 in a game where the score could have been worse had the Cardinals converted all of their scoring opportunities. Virginia would score five tries and Hennie was successful on four of the five conversions. To demonstrate the complete dominance of the Virginia pack, four of the five tries were scored by forwards with prop Terry Whelan, second row Gerry Gilfoyle, hooker Tim Spruill and flanker James Painter all notching tries. Playing in relief of scrumhalf Dane Cheek, Jeff Bush scored the other try on a nifty grub through Brockport’s flat backline defense and then had another little grub of the ball to get the ball closer to the try line for his score. For those keeping track, the forwards had scored five of the seven Cardinal tries on the first day of the competition.

The second half of the Brockport match became somewhat of a practice session, especially for the back line, which featured one brand new face in Reggie Tift, one player (Will Thornton) with only Commonwealth Cup experience as a Cardinal over-45er (even though he had played for the Cardinals over-35 side many times) and one back who had not played at all during 2005 due to injuries (Jeff Bush). The meshing on the field in the backline was not up to speed for captain Mike Puopolo and Hennie van Zyl, so a Saturday afternoon practice on everyone’s day off was arranged just for the backs, so that they could work on their offensive and defensive moves and alignments. After the practice, everyone who attended felt it was needed, was very worthwhile and accomplished everything that could have been expected. Those results varied differently from that of the shortened team practice on Thursday night when a member of the Can-Am tournament committee shut down the Cardinals practice after only about 25 minutes due to possible loss of the use of the fields for the weekend from the Saranac Lake school board if there was one cigarette butt or one beer can left on the field. (Can you say-lighten up?) The only benefit to the shorter practice session was that it allowed additional time for some more team bonding at the post-practice get together at the Tail-of-the-Pup restaurant, where good food, drink and music were abundant.

The results of the Saturday practice paid dividends in both games on Sunday with better back alignments and movements both in offense and defense. The forwards continued their aggressive and scrappy ways as well. Sunday morning’s first match was a 9:00 am semifinal encounter with the Wilmington Old Boys (WOB), which saw the Cardinals play almost the entire game inside the WOB half. This positional advantage helped produce offensive pressure that forced Wilmington to make several costly penalties. Hennie started the day ‘on’ with his boot, nailing kick after kick, one of which was nearly 40 meters out. His kicks to touch were tremendous in maintaining good field position as well. By the end of the contest, six of seven penalties had crossed the uprights for an 18-0 Virginia advantage.

Things got a little testy during the second half when Dan Cheeks got sideswiped with a flying elbow to the head after a hit out of bounds. Steve Walters responded with a hit of his own to that culprit, then Steve got a right hand from another Wilmington player and then it was a big free-for-all that looked like an upright scrum of about 12 players. Order was finally restored after several minutes and the referee awarded two red cards, one to each team (although this writer personally thought Wilmington should have gotten two on their own).

Wilmington was rather perturbed that we kept kicking at goal, especially at penalties in close, but the Cardinal strategy was just to keep scoring (especially with a hot boot) and saving ourselves for the next game. Some of their players did not feel we were beating them because we were not scoring tries. Anyway, with the fate of the contest sealed and the match winding down, Wilmington made a long break outside and forced Virginia to take the ball to touch. Winning the lineout, WOB passed the ball out to their outside center who bolted in for the first and only try allowed by the Cardinals in the tournament. After the missed conversion at the posts, the referee blew full time at 18-5 and the Cardinals were one step closer to their goal of a championship.

That championship was earned less than three hours later after the 12:00 noon kickoff as the Cardinals dominated the Saranac Lake MOB in almost every aspect of play. The way that the Cardinals played in the championship game was highly appreciated by the Saranac Lake MOB. Almost every one of the beaten team congratulated us for playing the game how it was supposed to be played -- good, clean and hard -- and telling us we were deserved champions. (Makes all those sprints and weight lifting exercises worth it, eh?)

The MOB, as a true gesture of sportsmanship, offered us admittance to their Bud Light tent at the other Sunday championship finals played at the North Country Community College field in Saranac Lake. Other than the Saranac Lake guys, only three teams were invited into the tent that featured free and unlimited Bud Light and Amberbock beer. The other two teams were the collegiate squads from Air Force and Army, which played an exhibition game at the NCCC field earlier that day. For those who did not stand next to the entry spot to the tent, many, many people were denied entry into the tent (“sorry, this is a private party”) and Jeff Bush did not get in the first time either, until Lance clued him into the secret password that he played for the Virginia Cardinals.

We were also told that we had to be present at the NCCC field to receive our award plaque from the female president of the Saranac Lake Rugby Club, which Mike Puopolo deservedly accepted on behalf of the entire club. As a very pleasant surprise to everyone, we were also informed that because we had won our division, we were also the recipients of a gift certificate good for $1,000 of products from the official rugby supplier of the Saranac Lake tournament, Balls Out Rugby. (How about a pop-up tent with Virginia Cardinals on it? I will even carry it around for the team.)

The euphoria of winning the tournament and the festive atmosphere initiated by the MOB tent invitation continued back at the team hotel, the Town and Country Motor Inn, where the usual post-match activities went on Sunday night until the wee hours or until people just ran out of gas. Then it was get up Monday and get your butt back home or to work somewhere.

Unselfish play. Encouragement. Finishing. Driving forward in the rucks and mauls. Everybody on the same sheet of music. Winning all of our hooks and lineouts. Consistent tackling. Great support. Good team comraderie. Solid defense. Great kicking. Inspirational pre-game talks. Plenty of pressure. All of these qualities rose to the surface, were displayed for all to see and helped produce the over-45’s champions of the 32nd Annual Can-Am Rugby Tournament. We were obviously the best over-45’s team at the largest rugby tournament in North America (over 110 teams) and the results proved it. The four wins pushed the Cardinals (nee Son-of-Beaches) career record to 23 wins and only two losses. Those losses came at Saranac last year and in the final of the 2003 Aspen Tournament. The Can-Am crown also marks the fifth championship trophy in seven outings.

Enjoy the feeling. As Cary Kennedy notes, good rugby can be fleeting, especially at our age. Appreciate the moment for what it was – playing great rugby in a beautiful place, having a great time and enjoying great friends. Let us continue our collective work on the beautiful fields of Aspen in one month and other pitches in the days to come.

Mike Puopolo,Captain


Collin Crawfford:

Mike: I would like to get one of those somehow and be glad to pay the extra fee to do so plus any shipping. Just let me know. I am very proud of the whole lot of you and would have liked nothing more then to be in on the action. Although not physically there, believe me, I was in spirit, why I think I even helped Lance knock somebody down at least once. ( Since he is getting older he needs a little help now and then). I did drink a couple in honor of the vistory.

Your brother in Rugby,

Collin Crawford

PS. .Lance, what a great write up. Thanks for all the effort.

From John Carr:

Lance great stuff here man, very inspiring—also as a wise man once said take time to be present to the moments you have---Cheers to all, thanks for a great tourney. Jc.

From Tom Sarisky:


Very well written. Every sentence brought a smile to my face and wonderful memories of a great weekend both on and off the pitch. There will be no living with Tatonka after all the (well-deserved) praise you gave him. Was an honor playing with everyone at Saranac and best of luck at Aspen.


Thomas J. Sarisky

From Pat at

The Rugby Gods must be appeased! At our first practice this season, we are going to grab the smallest rookie and go toss him in a dumpster; that should do it. Wait a sec.- who are the Rugby Gods and what do they really want?

I just read the latest issue of Rugby Magazine. For starters the publisher of Rugby is a Rugby God. Ed Hagerty started Rugby Mag. shortly after William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it. He has supplied the US rugby world with every bit of national rugby news forever and that makes him a God. Thank you Ed! In this month’s issue there is an article about Ken Daly of Boston College. He has been the coach there for 37 years. In rugby years that is 74 years. God bless that Rugby God. I have 7 years of coaching under my belt and I could not imagine 30 more years. Thank you Ken Daly!

Buffalo has a player/God named Terry Lee. He is a tiny rickety old “old boy”, who would never let a ‘mate down. He owns a small chain of dry cleaning stores and for 35+ years he has taken care of the Buffalo kit. Nobody wants that job, but not only does he take care of Buffalo’s jerseys he also will wash the jerseys for all of the local college teams- never taking a dime! His rugby kindness knows no boundaries; any one of you reading this could move to Buffalo and ask Terry for a place to crash or some help moving and he would step up in the name of Rugby. Thank you Rugby God- Terry Lee!

The next god might be a bit young to be a full god, so he only gets a demi-god status. Buzz McClain writer-by-day, rugby ref by weekend. Here is a guy who was officially suspended by US Rugby for stepping up to officiate the now defunct red-headed step- child of us rugby; MLR. Not caring for the actions of his governing body, he stepped up and became a board member for US Rugby. A year later, US rugby was thanking him for his efforts! This guy knows how to use his keyboard to stir the pot, and he is the first to step up and practices what he preaches. Thank you “demi-god” Buzz McClain.

Since I have been playing and coaching rugby for a long time, I could keep this list going until I have a War and Peace type novel. Every sport, club, charity, or organization in general has people who go way beyond the norm. Rugby, however, with your diminutive status requires even more of a Herculean effort. Make your own list of people who have climbed Mt. Olympus to enter God-hood. I know the sports clichés say that you make your own luck with hard work, but arguments can be make for dumb-luck as well. Build up your cache of good karma by thanking those who have given so much of their lives for your rugby enjoyment.

It can’t hurt to say thank you now and again. Another way to say thank you, would be to start your own ascension to Rugby God-dem.

Terry,Eileen,and family

Old Norfolk Sons of Beaches

Mike Puopolo accepts Champ Trophy