A Proper Send-Off, Larry Gelwix

It was some years ago when I heard word that a rugby team from England was coming to Utah to play against the famed squad at Highland.  I had played with some Highland alumni in college, they always seemed deeply disappointed no matter how well we did, or how hard we tried, but I had never seen them play.

We drove down from college, found a seat in the stadium, and doubted they could ever be half as good as advertised.  We were wrong.

Highland opened with the haka.  I’m sure these boys from across the pond thought it quite silly to see this Polynesian war dance done amid the snow-capped mountains of American Rockies.  I doubt these young men from the game’s home land would have travelled so far to play if they did not think they would win.  How badly were they mistaken.

The youth from Utah ran over, through, and past the visitors with surprising force.  They were both fast and relentless.  I was in awe.  I had never seen anything like this.  Dressed all in black, Highland ended the day winning by more than 40 points.  One player stood out.  He was a giant.

This teenager stood taller, was thicker, and ran faster than all the rest.  I watched as he carried crowds of kids on his back, deflected tacklers like pesky flies, then posed for pictures with the defeated after the game.

That was a long time ago.  It is my understanding that this behemoth of a boy never played rugby again after high school.  I do still watch him play something; his name is Haloti Ngata and he plays football for the Baltimore Ravens.

A lot of people have played for Highland including Stewart Bradley of the Philadelphia Eagles. Over the past 30 years, Highland Rugby has amassed a 404-10 record. Saturday they claimed their 20th national championship.

20 is a lot.

In thirty years  a lot has changed.  The boys change, the styles change, even the rules change, but the one constant has been the coach, Larry Gelwix.

Gelwix wins games.  There is no way to deny it.  I have read countless articles trying to explain why or how, some complaining, but none can deny, they win.

They win more than just games.

In a country where most have never heard of rugby, fewer understand it, even less have played, Highland Rugby had a movie made about it.  The movie is a teenage tale of rebellion and redemption painted over a rugby backdrop.  Some have said it smells of cheese, I may have said that myself.  The funny thing of such a descritption is I’m sure coach Gelwix is proud of that.  He likes cheese.  He likes it not in the way that I do, I eat it, but in that he cares much, MUCH, more about the boys than he does the score.  A cynic would scoff that one with so many wins would not be victory obsessed, but such skeptisicm would be only slightly missplaced.  He is obsessed with the boys winning in life.

I have heard practices at Highland described as sweaty sunday school.  This may amuse those from somewhere else, but for those who are familiar with Gelwix, it seams normal.

After the victory this last Saturday Gelwix was carried off the field a retired man.  He has recently answered a call from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to serve as the President over missionaries in part of California.  He will spend the next three years serving more than full time, with no vacations, and for no pay.  He will supervise hundreds of 19-21 year old boys and all that entails.  He will be responsible for their welfare, religious education, and their success.

It would appear to be a daunting task, but I would say Gelwix has been doing just that for the past 30 years.

Hats-off to you coach.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “A Proper Send-Off, Larry Gelwix

  1. As a strange aside; in the movie Forever Strong, the “bad guys”, the warthogs, sport a team logo that belongs to the Wharton Wharthogs in Philly PA. The real life hogs designed the logo themselves… how did that happen? one of life’s mysteries.

  2. Josh

    I’ve admired Larry and his program for years (from a distance, I know nothing about Rugby – just a handful who have played for the program). Great writing!

  3. Don

    Gelwix is a class act! He did it the right way for 36 years and never sacrificed his principles. With last Saturday’s 20th national championship win, Gelwix’s coaching record is 418 wins and just 10 loses in 36 years. I am guessing that record is unmatched in any sport. The national Fox News Network called Larry Gelwix the “winningest coach in America.” Well deserved.

  4. supervising boys… and girls… and older men and women too.

  5. @ Lyric, come on Ric, we know that. I was trying not to complicate it and we all know that young woman and older people aren’t the hard ones to supervise.
    @ Don, Most winningest…. true.
    @Josh, thank you.

  6. The funniest rugby game i ever saw was wales/tonga. the tongalese came out and did a Haka, and Wales sang Tom Jones’ songs. The Welshmen were literally half the size of the Tongalese.

    (and we’re big haloti fans!)

  7. Mr. Pigtown, you know my alma mater’s rugby team will be in Philly next weekend, hosted by Philly’s favorite Tongan and myself. You interested in watching some NCAA 7’s action in Chester?

  8. i remember being scared of some of the guys on the philly team when they played in baltimore.

    (ps. it’s ms. pigtown)

  9. My apologies Ms. Piggy ( I couldn’t help myself, the set-up was too good),
    And that my friends is how you add insult to injury. Oh how this digital world has exposed our foibles even as we try to carefully cultivate the image we wish to present to the world.

    But really, I’m sorry. Girls are cool. I married one.

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