David Farmer answers his phone in a Denver trophy shop. He’s not there picking up trophies though, he’s getting one fixed.
Not fixed because the globe-shaped trophy was chipped or because one of the five overlapping rings was poorly welded. After all, the United States Olympic Committee tends to have a pretty tight lock on those rings and they were the ones who presented Farmer with the award.
Not fixed because the weighty wooden base had cracked in the dry Colorado air or because the text on the first line of the black placard contained a typo or misspelling. Even at a passing glance, anyone could see that “2010 Volunteer Coach of the Year” was 100% accurate in spelling, spacing and alignment.
No. The problem was the wrong name was at the base of the placard. Well, technically it wasn’t the wrong name, but the wrong name in Farmer’s mind.
The quintessential rugby man: selfless, articulate, witty, and hard-working, Farmer cut his teeth playing for Dartmouth College and later for the Denver Highlanders. He was a partner in Boa Construction until selling his share and retiring several years ago.
His wife was a professional social worker who claims he is more of a social worker than she is, especially since his retirement. He actively oversees projects for the YMCA, the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, a public library construction renovation and, of course, works with a youth rugby team.
“I should have never won this thing,” Farmer said of the USOC award, “I told Whitey that he is the one who should have gotten it.”
Farmer swears that it should have been his fellow coach at the Aurora Saracens, David White, who should have gotten credit for his work with the economically diverse high school club outside of Denver.
Farmer may have a point, but also probably is reluctant to take credit for what was, like all great rugby accomplishments, a focused and cohesive team effort.
In his acceptance speech for the USOC honor, Farmer said, “I’m going to say what most volunteer coaches would say if they were up here at this podium and that is: ‘I know tons of coaches who work harder and are smarter than me and are more deserving of this.’ I happen to coach with one of them!”
White wrote Farmer’s recommendation to the USOC and was, as it turns out, very convincing. But whether he’d admit it or not, Farmer’s contributions to rugby and the lives of the players he works with have been nothing short of award-winning.
Five years ago, the Aurora Saracens were in trouble. Dwindling player turnout was a sign of the times. The economic downturn was, not surprisingly, affecting low income families more swiftly and indeed more devastatingly than other groups. Of course, sport is often the first thing to go when a family comes on hard economic times.
The Aurora Saracens were in tough economic shape. Farmer's efforts helped get them back on track.
Sacrificing rugby, in Farmer's eyes, would only serve to further detriment the development of his young Saracens, a team that he began working with informally a decade ago. Much more was at stake in his eyes than just not being able to throw the ball around on a Saturday afternoon.
Farmer came on board with the Saracens in a formal capacity five years ago and didn’t waste any time. He knew the club needed cash and they needed it yesterday.
Through robust and creative fundraising campaigns Farmer, with his shoulder dug in, back straight and legs pumping, drove the team onto stronger financial ground. More to the point though, he made it possible through scholarships and fundraising for many players to be Saracens, whatever their family’s financial situation.
Developing responsible habits and driving young men to be accountable for their actions - on and off the field - are key features in Farmer’s playbook. Rugby was the vehicle to drive those ethics home in his players, and something many of them could ill-afford to not have.
In his recommendation to the USOC, White wrote: “It’s not just the coaching that Dave Farmer has impacted…For the most economically diverse teams in the league, Dave has an insatiable desire to impact the well-being of the lives of our young men.”
“Discipline and planning is what leads to success and there is no better game than rugby to teach that,” said Farmer. “It’s open to everyone. You can pick it up quickly and it’s cheap. In rugby, if you work hard, you’ll find success and that’s an important lesson that not all sports teach.”
Farmer was a very handy Lacrosse player and found success in other sports, but was drawn, like so many others, to rugby’s unique sportsmanship and camaraderie. Those values are what he aims to instill in his players to complement his mantra of “discipline and planning.”
Last weekend, a combined team of Aurora Saracens and players from Cherry Creek (the Saracens’ bitter rivals during league play) won the Under-15 TRY League (a summer youth competition in Colorado). Cherry Creek is an affluent area of Denver, contrasting starkly with the demographics of Aurora, but that didn’t stand in the way of the players becoming friends.
A group of Saracens is even making the trip south to Cherry Creek Reservoir Yacht Club to enjoy summertime BBQ with the Cherry Creek boys, highlighting what Farmer loves about the sport and what makes it such a powerful force in shaping the character and values of so many young players.
Back in the trophy store, Farmer gets the ‘fixed’ trophy and is satisfied. The black placard is still warm from the engraver’s tip. Now, next to his own name is the name on the black placard is “David White.”