My first encounter with our Trinidadian neighbors would be a year later in 1986, when the Enthusiasts team traveled to Caracas and Bogota on one of their numerous tours.
I got to know them that week in Caracas, fascinated by the peculiar accent, their hapless devotion to alcohol, and their love for rugby. As chance would have it, I traveled to Bogota the following week and discovered that they were scheduled to play against the erstwhile Bogota Sports Club.
Affected by the altitude of Bogota (more than 2,600 m above sea level) and the charms of Colombian ladies, local beer, and other locally grown products of dubious reputation, several of the Enthusiasts never found their way to the BSC -and many of those who got there were too wasted to play rugby-.
In those days, the Bogota Sports Club was the only rugby team in Colombia, and it was a rare occasion when the few local players (and a smattering of foreigners) got to play a rugby match.
Facing such a quantity of competition for a spot on the local team, I offered to play with the guests, who immediately assigned me to one of my favorite positions: flanker.
The most important daily newspaper in Colombia (El Tiempo) sent a photographer who had never seen a rugby match to that contest.
The next day an excellent photo appeared, showing a Trinidadian player tackling a Colombian. That Trinidadian player was me!!
At last, Trinidad!
Having graduated from Simon Bolivar University, we alumni started a team called Harlequins and, in 1990, we decided to travel to the Sevens tournament in Trinidad.
We would be part of a contingent of the first three Venezuelan teams to travel to Trinidad to play rugby (RCC and Simon Bolivar University would be the other two).
In one of those strange coincidences in life we were scheduled to play our first match against the RCC, my first team in Venezuela some 14 years earlier.
There isnt too much to say about that match. The final score (0-0) says it all. (This unusual Sevens result would not repeat itself until 12 years later in Sopot, Poland, between the Ukraine and Poland as part of the European Circuit).
The experience in Trinidad was tough but useful. We learned how Sevens should really be played, and in spite of winging it, we were able to advance to the winners round.
If I remember correctly, we won a match in the quarterfinals, but would eventually fall to Bermuda Barbarians, who in turn would lose in the final against the powerful local team, Caribs.
That trip would solidify my friendship with many of the Enthusiasts (Brian Stollmeyer, Knolly Moniquette, Tory Loregnard, Patrick Hamel-Smith, Peter Pascal, and Gavin Clark, among others) who receive me with much warmth each time I return to Trinidad.
In love with the tournaments ambience, I would return to play Sevens for the next few years with different teams as a whore (a rugby term for players who dont care who they play for, but just play for the love of the game).
I would play with the Anaucos Limers, Caracas Teachers, New Orleans, and Caracas Exiles. Its possible that I hold the record for the single player having played for the most teams.
Caracas Teachers at Caribbean 7s in 1993
Back Row: Steve Bodnar, Julia Franks, Robert Campbell, Robin (Hood?), The trainer/beer supplier, John Sully, John Doe.
Front row: Dave Parson, Tom Crosby, Mauricio Sanmartin, Ken Fleming
In 1993 I joined a group of expatriates, most of them teachers at Escuela Campo Alegre in Caracas and went to Trinidad. With us came Julia Franks, a lovely american lady, who would become the first and only female to play at the Trinidad Sevens (in the male's bracket). We took the Trinidadians by surprise when Julia showed up at the first game and the organizers didn't know what to do. They allowed her to play and the crowd was delighted to see Julia playing fearlessly, passing, rucking, mauling and even tackling some big guys.
After that episode, I guess the Enthusiasts decided to organize a women's bracket and avoid another embarrasment for those men being tackled by a lady!.
But what really converted me to Sevens was reading Emil Signes' book, Sevens Special, written in 1991, meeting personally with the author and his team, Atlantis, in 1996 in Trinidad.
Finally, I would do the pilgrimage to Hong Kong in 2000 to attend the worlds most important Sevens Tournament.
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