By Jack Cottrell
Alice Hoagland passed away at age 71 in December 2020. She is survived by her siblings, nieces and nephews, and over a thousand rugby-playing sons and daughters.
Alice was the honorary mother of gay and inclusive rugby, after tragedy took her only child, Mark, from her in 2001.
Always supportive of Mark, who began playing rugby at university, Alice encouraged him as he was a founding member of the San Francisco Fog and the Gotham Knights. She was at the very first gay rugby invitational tournament in May 2001, to cheer Mark on.
She would be at the next one, in 2002, when the tournament was named after her son.
Mark Bingham had been aboard Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. After it was hijacked by terrorists, Mark left a message for his mother, saying they were going to try and storm the cockpit. Mark and the other passengers took back control of the plane, and all aboard perished when the plane crashed into a field. While it is surmised that the plane was headed to Washington D.C., there is no real way of knowing what the terrorists had planned for it. It’s probably fair to say that crashing into an empty field wasn’t the intended result.
In 2002, the first Bingham Cup rolled around with most of the players still in shock. The tournament was a small affair, with just eight teams, most from the US. Alice presented the trophy to Mark’s first team, the San Francisco Fog.
I met Alice twice, the two times I have made it to the Bingham Cup. The first time was Sydney 2014, and I was literally on my first overseas rugby tour – with no real organisation for referees, I had paid the same price as a team supporter to go and officiate. Alice spoke at the opening ceremony, welcoming new faces (and given the tournament had never made it to the southern hemisphere before, there were a lot of new faces). She talked briefly about Mark, and made the comment that while she had tragically lost a son, she now had hundreds of them.
Around the tournament, Alice was a celebrity. Everyone asked her for pictures, requested hugs. On the second day of the tournament, I shyly approached her to ask for a pic. I said it was my first Bingham Cup.
“Who do you play for?”
“I’m a referee. I’m from New Zealand.”
“Welcome to the family hon. We need our referees!”
By the end of the tournament, having paid for the privilege of running ourselves into the ground, the gay referees plotted unionising. One of our number mentioned it to Alice, who said she thought it was a good idea.
Well, if Rugby Mom approved, they couldn’t tell us no, right? The International Society of Inclusive Rugby Referees incorporated six months later.
2014 also saw the introduction of a second bracket, to make sure every team gets to play all three days of the tournament. The winner receives the Hoagland Cup.
I met Alice again in 2018. This time the tournament took place in Amsterdam, and I didn’t have to pay an entry fee… Just everything else. Small steps.
Where the tournament in 2002 featured eight teams, and in 2014 had 24 teams, the 2018 tournament smashed all expectations with 70 men’s teams and four women’s teams. Again, at the opening ceremony Alice mentioned that the pain of losing her son had been eased by gaining not just hundreds, but now thousands of sons – and sixty-odd daughters as well.
Sadly, that was Alice’s last cup. The 2020 Ottawa tournament was cancelled, and rescheduled for 2022, twenty years after that first Bingham Cup.
Alice Hoagland could have easily refused the invitation in 2002, the tournament too painful a reminder of the loss of her only child. Instead, she spent the next 18 years welcoming more and more rugby players, supporters – and referees – into her family.
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