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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Arizona Ruggers honor Columbine victim

    Former Arizona rubgy player Bruce Beck, who attended a rugby scrimmage Saturday, returned to Arizona this weekend for the first time since his stepdaughter died in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. The Ruggers have an award named in her honor.
    Former Arizona rubgy player Bruce Beck, who attended a rugby scrimmage Saturday, returned to Arizona this weekend for the first time since his stepdaughter died in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. The Ruggers have an award named in her honor.

    The physical distance between the UA and Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., is 950 miles, a 13-hour drive. For Arizona students in 2006, the emotional expanse between day-to-day life in the present and the televised tragedy of April 20, 1999, may seem even greater.

    But at the Student Recreation Center, this gulf is bridged in a matter of minutes by an unlikely memorial – a rugby ball and plaque – that stand in remembrance of Lauren Townsend, one of the 13 victims of the school shootings at Columbine.

    “”I think there is more of a connection to Columbine than anybody realizes,”” said Townsend’s stepfather, Bruce Beck.

    Arizona rugby’s response to tragedy

    Friday was a homecoming for Beck, a UA alumnus and former Arizona rugby player from the late ’70s, as it was the first time he had visited his alma mater since his stepdaughter’s death.

    Meeting in the Rec Center with a small group of rugby team members past and present, Beck joined Dave Sitton, Arizona’s head coach of 28 years, to honor his stepdaughter’s memory and recognize the recipients of the Lauren Townsend Memorial Award, which is given to an Arizona freshman rugby player demonstrating both academic and athletic excellence.

    “”Nobody else in the world has this award,”” Sitton said as he described Arizona’s tribute to Lauren, a plaque bearing her picture and an Arizona rugby ball inscribed with the autographs of the award recipients.

    What makes the award so special is the fact that an identical memorial has been placed in Columbine High School. Every other year when the club travels to Colorado for games, the team is one of the few organizations allowed to visit Columbine.

    Although Townsend never intended on attending Arizona – instead, she earned an academic scholarship to attend Colorado State University -She is enshrined as if she were one of Arizona’s own in the Student Recreation Center trophy case.

    “”I’m just disappointed that my wife isn’t here, the rest of our family,”” Beck said. “”I think they would be overwhelmed to see what the University of Arizona has done.””

    Townsend was the consummate student-athlete, the valedictorian of her graduating class and the captain of the volleyball team.

    “”It was natural to have this award when you consider Lauren’s achievements in high school, both academically and athletically,”” Sitton said.

    To earn the award, which was first given in 1999, a freshman player must maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average and participate as a member of the varsity squad. If no athlete meets the requirements for the award, then the award is not given.

    In addition to honoring her accomplishments in life, the award stands as a reminder of what should have been.

    “”The reason the award is a freshman award is because Lauren never had that freshman opportunity,”” Sitton said. “”She was going to be a student-athlete at Colorado State University and a true student-athlete in the fact that she had achieved excellence in both athletics and academics, so she truly was a versatile leader. …That was so sad, that having been so excited to go to college and getting a scholarship to go to Colorado State and then to have it snuffed out in a 48-hour period.””

    ‘A tremendous honor’

    The freshmen receiving the honor said the experience can be a little overwhelming.

    Senior Matt Buppert, the 2004 award recipient, initially had mixed feelings about the chance to visit Columbine.

    “”To be honest, I was pretty scared,”” Buppert said. “”It’s not something that’s easy. It’s something that defined our generation. …Being at the school, it’s totally different when you’re there. You saw it on TV, you saw it on the news, but once you step on campus, it’s a totally different feeling. …You get chills.””

    All in all, Buppert said the experience was an inspiration.

    “”It shows how much strength (the people of Littleton) have,”” he said. “”They’ve rebuilt and moved on.””

    For others, receiving the award is a reminder of their own blessings.

    “”I kind of felt unworthy,”” said sophomore Sal Bonanno, describing his feelings upon winning the award. “”I kind of feel bad that I have the chance to do this, and she never did. I’ll never take it for granted.””

    Junior Matt Stewart, who won the award in 2005, used language common to all the honorees when describing his feelings.

    “”It’s a tremendous honor to be associated with Columbine,”” Stewart said. “”What happened obviously was a tragedy, but to keep the memory of Lauren Townsend alive is a tremendous honor. …It’s just an honor to be grouped into that category of person.””

    Beck, in turn, is thankful for his former team’s support.

    “”It is such an honor to have this connection to the rugby team,”” Beck said. “”It was a big part of my life when I was in college. You develop those friendships that last a lifetime.””

    For Beck, as well as all the current Ruggers, the award is very much a symbol of the bonds of love that can be forged in sport. Following Townsend’s death, Beck’s former teammates were among the first to reach out to his family. When Sitton asked Beck what he could do, the idea for the award was born.

    “”Those guys will do anything they can to help you in a time of need, and they sure stepped up and did it,”” Beck said.

    Current team members like Buppert aren’t surprised that Beck’s rugby ties have reached across the years.

    “”We’re a huge family,”” Buppert said. “”There’s a saying that we always tell the freshmen here, that you’ll always have two or three guys from the team at your wedding.””

    Just ask Steve Brossart, a former teammate of Beck’s who helped convince him to join the team and ended up being Beck’s best man at his wedding. When Brossart received the news, he left Tucson on the first flight to Colorado to be with Beck’s family.

    “”Toughest week of my life,”” he said. “”Walking into that house knowing what happened, it was something I knew I had to do, but something I didn’t want to do. …But you can’t break the ties.””

    Buppert said his teammates would do the same thing.

    “”I always know I have, like, 30 guys behind me,”” he said.

    Moving forward after Columbine

    For Beck, his stepdaughter’s award extends far beyond the rugby team. Remembering Townsend is just a necessary step toward creating a world where a Columbine is unthinkable.

    Wearing an angel pin in remembrance of his stepdaughter, his angel, Beck is warm and open with smiles, handshakes and hugs, even for members of the media, and constantly willing to spread his message.

    “”I draw my strength from Lauren every day,”” he said. “”As long as I’m wearing this pin, I have no problem with anybody ever asking me about it. I’m proud to talk about it. It reminds people of what happened in 1999, and it hopefully will make a difference.

    “”If it makes a difference with one person, then it’s worth all the conversations.””

    At Arizona, like all the schools he visits, Beck sees the key to preventing further tragedies in tomorrow’s parents.

    “”In regards to what happened at Columbine and what’s continuing to happen now, everybody’s got to be reminded …you guys (students) will be raising the next generation of kids.””

    Above all, Beck counsels communication between parents and children, believing that early conflict resolution can prevent future violence.

    “”You talk to people about your problems,”” he said. “”You don’t bury things so the only way you have to deal with your problems is to lash out at somebody.””

    Thanks to the Arizona rugby team, Beck’s message is remembered, and most importantly to him, his stepdaughter is remembered. The events of Columbine may be seven years behind and nearly 1,000 miles away, but as long as teammates remember their own, a little corner of Arizona will forever belong to Townsend.

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