Sometimes, the best of sports is not the games on the field, but the off-the-field causes that unite the teams. The Princeton men’s and women’s rugby football club offered a great example of that this weekend.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, six teams — four collegiate and two high school — joined together at Rickerson Field to take part in the 2018 Rickerson Cup. The event, named after its founding chair and former Princeton rugby player Stuart Rickerson ’71, features three rugby events in one afternoon and unites men’s and women’s rugby teams from New Jersey and the surrounding area. High school teams kick off the event when they compete for the New Jersey High School State Championship, followed by the Princeton Women’s Sevens Invitational and the New Jersey State Men’s Rugby Championship. Needless to say, the afternoon features an action-packed slate of rugby matches that never disappoint.
But even more important than the state championship game and both collegiate tournaments is the cause that brings them together. Now in its 12th edition, the Rickerson Cup teams up with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to raise awareness for the disease and money to help find a cure. Through the efforts of Rickerson and Elaine Bigelow ’10, tournament director and former Princeton women’s rugby captain, the Rickerson Cup has raised over $400,000 to aid in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
Bigelow’s father, Doug Bigelow, died of the disease.
“You don’t need to study biostatistics to conclude that the more research funding deadly diseases get, the fewer deaths result,“ said Bigelow. “Pancreatic cancer is near the bottom of both private and federal research funding.”
Rickerson also has personal relations to the disease. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2005, yet he has continued to fight, all the while helping improve the chances of other pancreatic cancer patients. He said that he hopes, with continued funding, “we can get the five-year survival rate above single digits and allow many more people diagnosed to lead longer and happier lives.”
The Rickerson Cup showcases the continued effort Princeton athletic teams put into striving to be “in the nation’s service.” Each year, the Cup is organized with the help of students on both the men’s and women’s team. This season, sophomores Owen Tedford and Dani Peters led the way in planning and organizing the Rickerson Cup, working alongside Rickerson and Bigelow.
Tedford is a sports writer for The Daily Princetonian.
“It’s been really amazing to see the support of this cause grow every year with each subsequent tournament,” said Peters. Starting in 2010, donations for the Rickerson Cup have increased every year except for one, with the largest single year accumulation being over $60,000 in 2016. Furthermore, many New Jersey teams have made the trip to the Rickerson Cup. To date, nine collegiate rugby teams in the state have attended the cup, with five making the New Jersey State finals and three different teams winning it. The event has led not only to more competition between in-state rugby rivals, but it has also allowed the camaraderie between the teams to grow even stronger. Following the Rickerson Cup, the captain of the Seton Hall Pirates — one of the teams in attendance — explained, “This was definitely a really unique and fun experience. We can’t wait to come back next season.”
When asked about his personal attachment to the Rickerson Cup, Tedford noted, “Having played rugby for nearly eight years now, seeing these kinds of festivals of the sport mean a lot to me, as they are truly all about celebrating the game we share. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter. It’s more about the community that the sport shares and fostering those connections.”
The Rickerson Cup continues to be one of Princeton’s best sporting traditions in spring. Bridging the gap between current students and alumni, fostering community between the various teams of New Jersey, and uniting hundreds in a fight against cancer are what help make the event special every year. And with the number of donations continuing to rise, the Princeton rugby community is well on its way to helping PCAN double survival rates by 2020.