During the fall 2010 semester, the Marist Men’s Rugby team was struggling to stay above 500, and finished the season with a 4-3 record. For the past three years they had seen their team slowly improve in size, strength, and athleticism, yet they could not find consistent leadership throughout the season, a must for a Rugby team.
One key to the lack of leadership was the absence of a veteran coach, who had the experience and pedigree needed to guide a team. At the time, the team was being coached by Senior James Miley, who acted as player/coach, and years before that the team had similar situations where seniors ran the team. Although their effort and desire to win was there, the lack of true leadership posed a major obstacle for them to right the ship, and they needed help.
As the spring 2011 season was beginning to get underway, the team was informed that they had found a coach who volunteered to be their leader, and work with them.
Whilhelmus Scheepers, or better known as Willie Skips, is a South African native who took the role as Marist Men’s Club Rugby head coach, and instantly changed the demeanor of the team. “Coach Skips has been an enormous asset to our team,” captain Phil Terrigno said. “Our program could not have come this far without his commitment and knowledge of the game.”
In his first semester with the team, Skips and the Red Foxes only managed to win one match, yet the record did not correlate to how the team was improving. With the team depleted due to a majority of its upperclassmen studying abroad, it was not at full strength physically, yet Skips voice had been becoming more of a force.
After a full offseason under coach Skips, the team was finally ready to display a competitive season. Led by Coach Skips, the team surged to a 6-1 record, and made it to the final four in the Metropolitan New York (METNY) Division. In only his second semester with the team, Skips had guided Marist to its best season since 1998, when the club team went undefeated. Willie Skips was the real deal.
Skips himself began playing Rugby at the age of seven, and stated “Rugby was everything to me,” and that it followed him throughout his life. As a teenager he enlisted in the military service and without hesitation joined his units Rugby squad. Later on in life he found himself working as a police officer in South Africa, where he too was part of his units Rugby squad. After a quick stint in the Middle East working for a private security company, Skips made his way to North America, landing in Canada where he joined a Canadian Rugby Club league.
Finally making it to the states, Skips was hired as a K-9 unit specialist at the United Nations in New York City. He initially lived in Queens, but claimed the traffic and chaos of the city was too much for him to handle and decided to make his way to Wappingers Falls, which was great news for Marist.
Yearning to get back into Rugby, Skips noticed an open coaching position at Marist College through a Rugby newsletter, and decided he could help the team. “Marist has truly impressed me. The kids are always willing to listen and learn. They work hard and it pays off,” said skips. He was adamant about giving credit to his team as well as all students involved in club sports, claiming they put in the time and effort that most division one scholarship athletes do, even though they may not get the same royalties.
Skips also loved what he saw from his players on and off the field. Besides the willingness to listen to his knowledge and play with discipline and heart on the field, the team bonded like brothers off the field. Skips said “What I love about Rugby is that you can always find a role on the team, there is always a spot for you.” He highlighted the camaraderie between the upper and lower classmen, that he says is a pleasure to watch develop and evolve.
The players have praised the arrival of their new coach, saying he has been the anchor to their team, and the driving force to their recent success. “The fact that he works in Manhattan at the United Nations, and lives in Wappingers Falls, he has to travel very far to work with us three times a week and we appreciate it deeply,” said Forward James Cronin.
Willie Skips has lived and worked in two continents, played for over five different Rugby Club Leagues, works as a K-9 specialist for the United Nations, and coaches the Marist Men’s Rugby Club team for Marist College. The team and the school are lucky to have him, and he says he is lucky to have them to.