Maccabi Blog- Rugby with Dallen Stanford
Today we feature Dallen Stanford, captain of Maccabi USA’s gold medal winning Rugby 7’s team and captain of Team USA’s bronze medal winning Rugby 15’s team at the 2013 World Maccabiah Games. Read below to learn more about Dallen’s experiences with Maccabi USA both on and off the field.Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Maccabi USA?
A: Wonderful memories of the fantastic organization that gave us the opportunity to travel to Israel, connect with our roots, make new friends for life, and represent the United States at the 2013 World Maccabiah Games.Q: How did you first become involved with Maccabi USA?
A: I had known about the Maccabiah Games for many years, as my uncle (Alec Levin) won the Gold in Rugby for Team South Africa at the 1981 World Maccabiah Games. I learnt about Maccabi USA from a friend and teammate, Kevin “Meat” Armstrong, who played for Team USA at the 2005 World Maccabiah Games. Upon moving to America, I played Rugby for the Occidental Olde Boys in Los Angeles, where Kevin was my teammate. He recommended I get involved prior to the 2009 Games.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take part in the 2009 World Maccabiah Games, as I was busy representing the USA in Rugby 7’s as part of the IRB Sevens World Series schedule. A few years later legendary rugby player Shawn Lipman, captain of Team USA’s 1997 Rugby team, which went undefeated, was named the Head Coach of Team USA for the 2013 World Maccabiah Games. Shawn contacted me to captain the squad, and that is when the exciting journey began!
A: The connections made with all those involved in the Rugby program are life lasting, and through sharing such a profound experience in Israel, one is compelled to stay and contribute where possible. Recently, the USA Eagles hosted the New Zealand All Blacks in Chicago. Events like these always host a massive Maccabi USA Rugby reunion, and keep that connection we have with each other.Q: How would you describe the Opening Ceremonies?
A: The Opening Ceremony was like nothing I have ever experienced! It was such a fantastic atmosphere with thousands of athletes coming together and celebrating one of the greatest sporting events in the world. Seeing a video message from President Barack Obama play on the big screen made me realize how recognized and important the Maccabiah Games were on the global stage.
A: I was very impressed with the skill level of all the teams in the Rugby competition. Going in we knew it would be difficult to take 30 individuals from across the USA and create a cohesive team in a short space of time. Our coaches and staff did an amazing job preparing us for the 7’s and 15’s events, and it was very special that we were able to defeat Israel 17-14 to win Team USA’s first Rugby gold medal since 1997. Although we narrowly lost to Australia in the semifinals of the 15’s competition, we finished strong with a win over Great Britain to capture the bronze medal.
On the field, my most memorable moment would have to be immediately after the final whistle of the gold medal game in the Rugby 7’s competition, when our whole team dove on us after we won. It was extra special for me being honored as the MVP 32 years after my uncle had won the gold. Off the field, there were many memorable moments for me. The week-long spiritual journey we experienced through the ISRAEL CONNECT program was unbelievable. The Opening Ceremony in front of 40,000 people was such a magical moment together, socializing with Jews from other countries. Lastly, being chosen alongside four other Team USA captains to meet the Mayor of Jerusalem was a special honor for myself.
A: I started playing Rugby at 6 years old, and have been fortunate to travel the world through this amazing sport. The people, places and memories along this journey have been unbelievable. This experience was very different; Our unique background as Jewish Rugby players bonded our squad, and is the main reason why this competition was unlike any other I have experienced. Bonding with Team USA athletes in sports other than Rugby was special as well. Team USA’s Rugby and Water Polo teams have a longstanding tradition of supporting one another at the Games, and we did our best to continue that tradition. Prior to the beginning of USA Water Polo’s gold medal game against Israel, the Israeli national anthem played, but they did not play the United States’ national anthem. To lift our “teammates”, the entire Rugby team stood up in the stands and sang the national anthem, without any accompanying music! This type of support was returned, which meant a tremendous amount to us. Finally, playing against my country of birth, South Africa, was amazing to me as I shared connections from my time growing up with many of their athletes.Q: What would you say to an athlete who asked you if they should compete in the Maccabiah Games?
A: It’s a once in a lifetime experience, and even though there might be other factors effecting one’s participation, it will be one of the best decisions that you could ever make in your life.
I’d like to thank Maccabi USA for everything they do for Jewish athletes, and the important connection to Israel they make. I also want to thank our coaches Shawn Lipman, Gregory Schor Haskin, Co-Charimen Jeff Simon and Josh Kaplan, management and staff; David “Buzzy” Ridzinsky, Suzanne & Barry Seidel, Sarah Sall, David Danker, Ben Wells. Marc Stcherbina, and John DiBattista. Lastly, thank you to those 30 sensations that made up our squad, and to Vice-Captain Aaron Loring David. #FinishStrong #FTB.