Jerry Ben­zwick: When the rugby bug bit

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORT - Da­nia Bogle Se­nior Gleaner Writer

MANY AC­TORS will re­late sto­ries of how the act­ing bug bit, and once in their sys­tem, they couldn’t get it out.

For chair­man of the Ja­maica Rugby Union, Jerry Ben­zwick, it was the rugby bug that bit more than 30 years ago and the love of a sport, which started while he was a first for­mer at St Cather­ine High School, never died.

“Rugby is a virus. It kind of gets into your sys­tem; it can’t come out,” he told The Gleaner.

If his name seems fa­mil­iar, it’s that for years, Ben­zwick, a trained ac­tor, was also a reg­u­lar fea­ture on FAME FM’s Full House Fri­days.

Ben­zwick said he got into act­ing be­cause he wanted to do ra­dio work and did a course in voice and speech at the School of Drama

“I went just to do voice and a cou­ple of girls from the drama class dragged me over there, and the drama teacher said I could stay, then I did a pro­duc­tion and the act­ing bug bit me. The fol­low­ing se­mes­ter, I reg­is­tered. It changed my life be­cause I re­ally found my niche. Be­fore that, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he shared.

Iron­i­cally, act­ing did even­tu­ally get him to do his first love.

Af­ter he went to pro­mote a drama pro­duc­tion on FAME FM, he was in­vited to re­turn “any­time”, and that even­tu­ally mor­phed into a po­si­tion on staff.

All of that didn’t stop his rugby ca­reer, how­ever.

CHAM­PI­ONSHIP-WIN­NING TEAMS

Ben­zwick played rugby through­out high school and was on sev­eral cham­pi­onship-win­ning teams through­out the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“There was a bunch of boys there (St Cather­ine) in­tro­duc­ing sports and rugby got me ex­cited be­cause what I thought of was hel­mets, shoul­der pads, and locker rooms. I was think­ing Amer­i­can foot­ball. I went to the meet­ing and it wasn’t that.

How­ever, he got even more ex­cited when he re­alised that rugby had none of the trap­pings he had pre­sumed.

“It’s the kind of sport that at­tracted me. A team sport is what I love where you can work with others, and I found rugby to be the purest team sports. Rugby is a full-on team sport where ev­ery­body has to pull their weight,” he ex­plained.

“Rugby was built on a foun­da­tion of dis­ci­pline, in­tegrity, hon­esty, sol­i­dar­ity, re­spect, and it is now the core val­ues of rugby that we live by. When I was a child play­ing rugby, our coach would say ‘rugby man don’t do cer­tain things’,” he added.

Af­ter high school, he con­tin­ued to play as part of St Cather­ine Masters team, the Thun­der­cats.

Af­ter spend­ing two years liv­ing in New York, dur­ing which time he worked at a restau­rant as a floor man­ager, at schools, and in dra­mas, Ben­zwick re­turned to Ja­maica and was in­vited to run for the po­si­tion JRU chair­man.

“When I told them I was com­ing back, they told me they wanted me to run for chair­man. They told me I was the per­son who would have the right stuff to bring the union into the place where it needs to be.” He was elected un­op­posed on July 17. Ben­zwick, who is also a mo­ti­va­tional speaker, has a lot of plans to move the sport for­ward lo­cally.

“(Rugby) has been mis­man­aged. We are sit­ting on a gold mine. Rugby has un­lim­ited po­ten­tial for tourism. Ev­ery­body who plays rugby trav­els, how­ever no­body is trav­el­ling to Ja­maica. My man­date is to change that and get big tour­na­ments here right through­out the year” he said. “I in­tend to make rugby the na­tional sport.” This is a task with which he is work­ing along­side vice-chair­man Keisha Ann Down, and the pair is on a so­cial me­dia drive to help their func­tions.

The JRU is cur­rently re­brand­ing, but one is­sue is the short­age of green space. He also wants to im­prove the im­age of the sport with the in­ter­na­tional body, too, which would open doors for fund­ing.

Rugby is a virus. It kind of gets into your sys­tem; it can’t come out. Rugby was built on a foun­da­tion of dis­ci­pline, in­tegrity, hon­esty, sol­i­dar­ity, re­spect, and it is now the co re val­ues of rugby that we live by.

PA­TRICK PLANTER/ PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Chair­man of the Ja­maica Rugby Union, Jerry Ben­zwick.

File Ja­maica's top fe­male boxer Ali­cia Ash­ley (right) lands with a right up­per­cut dur­ing a World Box­ing Coun­cil su­per batamweight ti­tle fight against Amer­i­can Christina Ruiz in Bronx, New York, in 2011.

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