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Bellingham
Sunday, May 31, 2020

Honoring a fallen rugby warrior

By Samuel Biehn

 

Western’s rugby lost one of their own, back Caleb Huisingh, in a hiking accident.

“We lost a real warrior on the team,” Director of Western’s Rugby Paul Horne said. “These fellas really looked up to him, not only as a tough player but also as a human being.”

Horne said the team will honor Huisingh with an annual Most Inspirational Player award given in his name, a plaque that will also be put up in the Wade King Student Recreation Center.

Horne also said the team is working with Huisingh’s parents to put together a potential scholarship that can be given in Huisingh’s honor, and that money has already started to be donated.

Caleb Huisingh playing rugby last season. // Photo Courtesy of WWU Rugby

Marotto said knowing that the Caleb Huisingh Inspirational Player Award will continue Huisingh’s legacy is a great feeling.

“For every team you’ll be on there’s going to be an inspirational guy,” Marotto said. “To have an award named after someone like Caleb for what he brings, through his attitude and his commitment to a team, it’s wonderful to have.”

Fullback Noah Hanks said the loss of Huisingh meant the loss of a player and an individual who helped guide the team. Hanks said he was a mentor to many younger players.

“The same group of guys, we would always eat lunch together,” Hanks said.  “I mean every day. We were all so close, and for it to be that real, it was just hard.”

Hanks said that Huisingh brought the team together as soon as he joined them last season. 

As a part of that group, Horne said that Huisingh was tough and driven, never letting his size define him.

“He played hard, there was no give,” Horne said. “This is a physical game and people notice that kind of stuff. He wasn’t a big man, but he played big.”

Horne said it’s that attitude that showed off Huisingh’s grit as a truly physical player.

One day at practice, Horne said Huisingh arrived with hurt ribs. During a scrimmage at the end of training, Horne said Huisingh couldn’t help but push to get involved. Even when Horne tried to tell him to stay out, Huisingh still pled his case. 

“[Huisingh said,] ‘I’ll go half-speed,’” Horne said. “I said, ‘Caleb, you don’t even know what half-speed is.’”

That tough-minded mentality remained true even when Huisingh was off the field, wing Brandon Burn said. He was always pushing his fellow teammates to stay focused on school and to work hard.

“He was just the epitome of work hard in school and athletics,” Burn said. “Don’t complain, just keep grinding.”

To forward and team President Tripp Marotto, a trip to Lynden with Huisingh and his teammates to clean a sheep barn revealed Huisingh’s work ethic off the field.

Marotto said the work was dirty, and while he and others were complaining, Huisingh continued to keep up a good attitude.

“You got Caleb who’s just chipper,” Marotto said. “Bright attitude, he’s there to work, [and he’s] making the best of it, he’s just putting his head down and working. It speaks a lot about who he is as a person.”

Even after Huisingh passed away, his effect on the people he met could still be felt. 

Horne said when staff and players were driving down to his funeral in Husingh’s hometown of Pasco, Washington, they were stopped for speeding when a police officer noticed their Western gear.

“We said we were going down to a funeral,” Horne said. “He said ‘Who is it?’ and we told him, and he says ‘Oh, I know Caleb’ and we didn’t get a ticket that day.”

Horne said there were about a thousand people in attendance for the service.

Hanks said the service was a painful experience for players, and also one that brought the team closer.

“We play a man’s game,” Hanks said. “You’re sitting there, and then finally it comes down to it, and we’re all holding our own until rugby photos pop up. You don’t notice it in the photos until you look to the left and the right and you never think that that guy’s not going to be on your side again.”

Burn said there were many sleepless nights at first, but that he knew Huisingh wouldn’t want the team to stay down for long.

“He wouldn’t want us to be too fretful,” Burn said. “He’d want us to keep attacking life head-on, because that’s what he would do.”

Burn said he would dedicate his entire season to Huisingh.

“We already won a couple tournaments for him,” Burn said. “We’re gonna keep it up.”

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