Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rugby event to boost Firefighter Jon Davies Fund



WORCESTER — The Worcester Rugby Football Club will play a team of New York firefighters on April 21 at Commerce Bank Field at Foley Stadium to benefit the Jon Davies Fund.

Davies, a 17-year Worcester firefighter, died in a fire on Arlington Street on Dec. 8.

The New York firefighters' offer to play the WRFC in a fundraiser returned a favor. In the spring after the terrorist attacks in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, the WRFC and a New York team of firefighters played a benefit game at Foley Stadium. The event raised $3,500 for the families of fallen firefighters at ground zero, according to Steve Dunn, a former WRFC captain who organized and played in the event.

Ten of the New York firefighters who played in that rugby match had attended the memorial service for the six Worcester firefighters who died in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse fire in December 1999. WRFC members had also played against firefighters on the Rockaway Rugby Club and had grown to know them.

“There's a real brotherhood among rugby players,” Dunn said. “We found the fire department to be the same way. It was an easy connection.”

Two of the New York rugby players who played at Foley Stadium 10 years ago had been pictured in the famous photo of three firefighters raising the American flag at ground zero.

WRFC President Jamie Gniadek was not surprised by the offer of the New York firefighters to play in the April game.

“It means a lot,” Gniadek said. “The rugby community is very tight. We were honored the last time we did it, and being part of another event like this is great.”

“When we had heard of another tragedy involving a Worcester firefighter,” Ron Kemly, president of the Fire Department of New York's rugby football club, said via email, “We thought that it would be great if we could somehow use our sport to help our brothers in Worcester to know that we were with them, that we know how it feels to lose someone that is part of the family.”

The WRFC received approval from the Worcester Fire Department before scheduling the fundraiser.

John McCluskey sprained an ankle the week before the game 10 years ago and had to watch from the stands, but he plans to play for the WRFC in April.

“I was extremely disappointed,” McCluskey said, “not to be able to play last time. It would have been an honor to play them and help out in any small way we could to help their families. This time, I hope I can help the cause.”

Brad Joyce is the Worcester team's player-coach. Greg Whelan and Ryan McCarthy rank among the team's top players. Lionel Berthiaume, a volunteer firefighter in Paxton, is also scheduled to play for WRFC.

The New York team will be composed of firefighters from several New York City rugby clubs.

“Just as it is with any calling or occupation where a man would lay his life on the line for another, firefighters worldwide are part of a collective family. At any moment we could be in a situation where our mortality comes into question. So we do this to raise money for his family and perhaps more importantly to reach out our hands and hearts to them and our firefighter brothers from Worcester,” Kemly said.

Gniadek said members of Davies' family are expected to attend the fundraiser.

The April 21 game will be at 5 p.m. The New England Rugby Union Division 2 All-Star Game will be at 3 p.m.

Tickets will cost $5 and will be available soon at the Galway Bay Irish Pub, the Greyhound Pub, the Blackstone Tap and the Center Bar & Grill, all in Worcester. Check the WRFC website,, to see when tickets will become available.