By CVRA member Rich Didday
Mickey Ording is a long time Capitola Village resident known for his jovial demeanor, kindness, and powerful build. Mickey has many great memories of his long rugby career (1960’s through 1982). And now he’s being inducted into the USA Rugby Hall of Fame.
Rugby has been played since the early 1800’s and is filled with obscure terms and traditions — Scrums, mauls, rucks, lineouts — and the 15 field positions of the traditional rugby team have colorful names. Traditionally, a “cap” is awarded for having played for your country in an international Rugby match (Known as a “Test”).
Mickey won his first cap in early 1976 when he started at the position colorfully known as “tight-head prop” against the Australia team in the United States’ first game of the modern era.
CVRA: How did you get started playing rugby?
Mickey: I played football at the University of Oregon [Mickey was an all-star guard], and there were a few grad students from Australia and New Zealand who started a rugby club. Rugby was just starting its resurgence in the US after pretty much disappearing around Word War II.
CVRA: Had you played before?
Mickey: Never. But I kind of took to it.
CVRA: And you kept playing after U of O, right?
Mickey: When I got down to San Francisco, I started playing a position called “prop”, more like a defensive tackle position. A little more physical that a number 8 that I played at Oregon. I learned the skills of that position. It’s a game of knowing what you’re doing. Cause then when you get in that scrum, a guy will work your arm or crick your back, it can be pretty painful. You learn the techniques by playing, and learning from figuring out how other guys are getting the best of you.
CVRA: Was it all amateur when you played?
Mickey: Yes, now they have professional rugby, only in Europe. There are a couple of guys that played at Cal who play professionally in Europe. Maybe 5 percent is played by professional teams. The amateurs are colleges, county teams, regional teams and the national team, the Eagles.
It was a great experience for me. Did a lot of traveling, went to South Africa, Zimbabwe, it was called Rhodesia when we went there. It was pretty interesting. When we went to South Africa, we had one black player on the team, and there was apartheid at the time. We couldn’t go as the US team at the time, so we went as the “US Cougars”. Politics is as it is. Anyway, our black player was allowed to stay in the hotels where we were in South Africa and Rhodesia.
But when I was playing at the U Oregon in 1962, I guess, we had 5 or 6 black kids on the playing team, and they wouldn’t let us stay in hotels in Austin, Texas. We had to go outside of town, some remote little town and stay there because they’d let us stay together there. Here’s a country that practiced apartheid that would let us stay in the hotels, but in our country we couldn’t.
Mickey: I’ll always remember the games, the camaraderie, the friendships, the songs after games, keg parties, dances, my teammates.
CVRA: What would you say was the thing that made you so good at rugby? Was it balance, or …
Mickey: Well, yes, the football background. When I was a freshman I was a quarterback, but a coach said “we’ve got a position on the line we need to fill”. I weighed 220 back then. I punted as well, had pretty good motor skills, coordination. I played some basketball. When you play rugby, you have to catch the ball, kick the ball, tackle, be durable. [Rugby] came pretty easy to me, learning all the rules was the tough part.
CVRA: It sounds complicated!
Mickey: Well, once you get going, it’s not once you understand them. Once you play about three years, you find you don’t make those mistakes anymore.
CVRA: Thank you, and congratulations! Oh—will there be an induction ceremony?
Mickey: Yes. Most likely in Philadelphia in August when the United States Eagles will play an All- Star team from the British Isles called the Harlequins.
Postscript: After 38 years of teaching and coaching high school and junior college football (and introducing students to touch rugby), in retirement, Mickey now helps coach his Aptos grandsons’ little league baseball teams!
Here’s what the New Zealand group rossrugby.co.za says about the position Mickey played: “The tighthead prop is the most valued member of any team, not one that spectators see, but the success of most teams is normally hinged on his success in the scrums”