With much sadness we report the Club’s Founder, OLEN GEORGE BUNTING passed away at age 75.
Obituary below as well as an interview with Bunting.
The club’s Old Boy Quarterly Newsletter featured an interview with George Bunting in its 2012 first edition and the subsequent editions told the entire 54 year history of the rugby club at KU. We re-print the interview with Bunting (here, below his obituary).
Bunting returned to KU for the club's 20-year anniversary celebration in 1984. As the featured speaker, he commented that it was far easier to “father” a club, while the real accomplishment was “raising” it to what it has become. Bunting also went on one of the first foreign club tours to New Zealand. His comments in the interview reflect his observation on his New Zealand tour that the club's tourist at that time were heavily made up of club side players and not students.
Although too ill to attend the club’s 50-year anniversary in 2014, Bunting remained in periodic correspondence with the club. His wish was for the club to have a student-player base of 50 or more registered college players so as to be an IMPORTANT STUDENT ORGANIZATION. The club’s favorable link with the University of Kansas was foremost.
Olen George Bunting
Jun 18,1942---Jan 12,2018
Olen George Bunting, surrounded by his beloved family, died peacefully on January 12, 2018. George was predeceased by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Herbert Bunting, Jr. and sister, Karen Ann Bunting. He graduated from The Pembroke Hill School, Dartmouth College and the University of Kansas School of Law. In 1964, he founded the Kansas Jayhawks Rugby Football Club. He was an active and entrepreneurial businessman in everything from oil production to aviation services. He was kind and honorable and remained continuously curious about the world and his next business idea. His greatest joys in life were his children and grandchildren and providing the occasional resting place for a dozing cat. He leaves his loving wife, Jill, and his children, Eric and Allyson Bunting, Gordon and Banni Bunting and Lauren and Pedro Guzman and cherished grandchildren, Will and Cate Bunting, Remi and Tatum Bunting and Brenden, Brent and Julia Guzman. Services for the family will be private. A Celebration of Life will be held in the spring for family and friends.
Chapter One: Starting From Scratch
Interview with the club’s founder, George Bunting
The Kansas Jayhawk Rugby Football Club will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the fall of 2014. In this retrospective series about the club’s history, the logical place to begin is with an interview with the club’s founder, George Bunting. Most Jayhawk rugby players know that George Bunting started the team, but know little else about the man and about the initial start up of the club.
Bunting was interviewed at his home in Midland, Texas in early December 2011. He is 69 years old and semi-retired. In his entrepreneurial career, he has worked on Wall Street and owned a number of companies. He remains in the oil business and currently owns companies that sell aircraft parts and energy equipment for the wind power industry. At the start of the interview, he warned that the questions were about things he had not thought about in years. He said “Memory Lane” is a one-way street, marked “Do Not Enter”. He would do his best.
Before coming to KU Law School, Bunting played rugby while an undergraduate at Dartmouth. He played for 3 years, starting in 1961. That is the first place he saw a rugby game. The 6 foot 3 inch, 235 lbs Bunting was interested in all sports. He had played on the varsity squash team and was in pretty good shape. “Dartmouth was a wonderful school because they would let you try anything. I rowed crew for a while, played lacrosse, and threw the javelin. I started playing rugby more as a curiosity than anything. Once I gravitated to rugby, I fell in love with the sport.”
“Rugby is a great sport. Everyone gets to carry the ball. It’s very “democratic”. It has a social element to it. It’s not very hard to learn. You don’t have to be a terrific athlete; although that helps. Just about any size or build person can find a position. You can be slow or fast and still play. All of those things are reasons why rugby is so popular.”
When Bunting played, the Dartmouth club had already been around for decades. It had done well nationally and taken a number of international tours. The club regularly traveled to California and played teams from Canada, too. The Dartmouth club was self-funded, but was a welcome part of the school’s club system. Bunting said Dartmouth still has one of the top rugby clubs in the country. They have their own club house and have brought a lot of positive recognition to the school. The Ivy League schools don’t play spring football and they allow their football players to play rugby in the spring.
Bunting said he was an average athlete. He mostly played on the rugby club’s “B Team”. He added value with his ability to both place kick and drop kick. Although he normally played second row, he recalled one high point at Dartmouth, when a visiting team from Montreal came to play. They were short a player, so Dartmouth loaned him to the Canadians, who played him at wing. He really enjoyed that.
When he came to the University of Kansas as a law student in 1964, he learned that there wasn’t a rugby club. He went to the school newspaper and told them he was interested in starting a club. The paper ran an article about it. He reserved a meeting room at the KU Student Union. 13 interested players showed up. “Fortunately, 2 or 3 of those who turned up were foreign graduate student with considerable experience. One was from South Africa.”
The KU Athletic Department supported the formation of the rugby club. The first jerseys were a set of old football practice jerseys the Athletic Department gave the club. The club was also given access to the intramural fields located near the current Watkins Memorial Hospital, a few hundred yards east of Allen Field House.
Bunting was one of the coaches. He said “I learned more about the game by coaching it than I ever did as a player. I had to look things up. This was particularly true of the backfield. As a second row, my experience was being down in a group of forwards and what went on the backfield was a different world. The foreign players had a wealth of experience to share, so I let them coach all they wanted.” Because there were players who knew more about the sport than he did, his most important role on the club was as a President. “I wanted an organization that would perpetuate itself, so I was encouraging the election of officers that would recycle the club and not be dependent on me.”
The club’s initial roster of 13 players ballooned to 35 or 40 by the time Bunting graduated from law school. People would see the team practicing on campus and come over to find out more about it. The school paper wrote a number of stories, as the paper followed the club. The word got out. Most of the initial players were graduate students who may have played sports as an undergrad (usually football) and were looking for some athletic activity. Then the club stated getting undergrads from fraternities etc. interested and the club started getting even more players. The whole thing just spread.
The KU club was formed in the same season as the Kansas City Rugby Football Club, whose founder, Gerry Seymour was a transplanted Brit. Seymour had lots of rugby contacts in the Midwest, so Seymour knew how to access clubs in St. Louis and colleges like Palmer Chiropractic College in Iowa. Bunting lined up the first season working with Seymour.
Bunting recalled KU’s first game against KCRFC as being at UMKC in Kansas City. “We played on a football field that was hemmed in by a surrounding track. Curiously, it had a big manhole right in the middle of the field. I just recall that lots of scrum downs seemed to be called right over that inconveniently placed manhole. I think the match maybe ending in a 0-0 tie. It was a really ugly, ugly game. I don’t know if the ball ever got to the backs. It was 30 people not really knowing what they were doing, but trying, you know?”
Bunting said the early KU club had a problem of execution. The players obviously wanted to get the ball out to the wing and try to get a mismatch of players, but his KU teams had a great deal of trouble completing 3 or 4 passes without a knock on. They knew what they should be doing, but had trouble pulling it off.
KU had a couple of players who were former football players like John Larocca and Pat Rapp who were good athletes. Some other good players he recalls from that first season were Doug Dusenbury at fullback. “He had played football at K-State. He could kick a football like 80 yards and was a terrific tackler.” There was also Bunting’s best friend at law school, Kit Cornett and a 6 foot 8 inch law student, he believes was named Tom Russell. He recalled a 6 foot 6 inch Welshman came out in the second season, named Bill Pritchard who was an excellent player. “Between Pritchard and our South African, Business School student, Winan Pienaar, we had two players who had played internationally. The mixture of experienced players and good athletes made the club pretty good.”
After the team got established in its second season, Bunting bought the club a set of real rugby jerseys to help give the club an identity. Bunting said that it’s different from what you have in Lawrence now, where new players come out to an existing club and interact with players who have been on the team for years. Back then, they were starting the club from scratch.
In the club’s second year, during Spring Break 1966, they scheduled games with Ivy League schools that Bunting knew from Dartmouth. He thinks they played Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, and Holy Cross. “KU lost all of those games, but had a great time. The hosting teams housed and fed the KU club. These clubs had been around for years, they had traditions and lots of support. You could see that these clubs took the game seriously. It gave the sport legitimacy for the KU players. It exposed the KU club to the upside of rugby. It was a good lesson.”
Asked “What was the best game he played at KU and why?” he thought about it and said it was a good question. “It was probably a game they played against a St. Louis club on the return trip from the Ivy League Tour in the second year of the club. The KU club had been on a team bus for six days and played four games. The players were sore and exhausted. The KU club lost in a close game that was maybe a score of 6-7, but the club played really well against a very good opponent. I was pleased by the way the club played after knowing the sport only for a short time. The team had come such a long way. It was good way to end the trip.”
After graduating from KU Law School, Bunting went to New York to work on Wall Street as a security analysis. He played a little bit for what he recalls as the New York Rugby Club and then moved to Boston a year later and was involved with the club at MIT. As he became older, he realized he could contribute to the game as a referee. He returned to live in his home town, Kansas City around 1970 and joined the Referees Society for a few years. He refereed some games at the Heart of America Rugby Tournament that played every fall in Swope Park. Bunting then ended his rugby career doing a few coaching sessions with the St. Benedicts Rugby Club in Atchison, KS, when they were starting their club.
Asked about any perspective on the looming 50th anniversary of the club he founded. He mused that he was delighted that he and the club are both still alive. “The real credit to the rugby club is the people who came after me that kept it going.” Although he has never visited the Westwick facilities, when he learned of it, he worried that it might lead to a distancing in the club’s relationship from the university, since it would be away from campus and make it more difficult for the students to participate. Bunting believes the relationship with the university is a key component of the club’s existence. “My fear has been that some sort of “bad event” might cause a problem between the club and the university. You don’t want to be under the thumb of the university, depending on them for money for instance, but you want to remain a student activity. You need to have a good relationship with the university.” Bunting sees one potential “issue to watch” is the interaction between players who are out of school with the student players. The older players are able to do different things than the undergraduates because of their age.
His interest in rugby has always been that it is a sport played for sport’s sake. The game is controlled by the people who actually play it. From that angle, he believes that the Lawrence club’s focus should be on the promotion of the varsity side, introducing the game to students, and making that a fun experience for the players. “If you do that, then everything will follow for a good club side.”
Westwick Rugby Complex, E 1094 Road, Lawrence, KS, United States 66047