The idea for the Fog started in early 2000 when Derrick Mickle, along with Jason Reimuller and Mark Bingham were playing in a gay flag football social club and bonded over their common love of the sport of rugby. The issue was there was no gay-friendly team in the San Francisco area that they felt would welcome them. With that, Derrick recruited Cameron Geddes and Bryce Eberhart (both ex-college ruggers and both gay), and after months of hard work they founded the San Francisco Fog on October 14, 2000.
Missing the brotherhood, bonding and esprit de corps he experienced playing in rugby clubs, Derrick decided to see about starting a gay-friendly rugby club. He conducted an Internet search in January 2000 out of curiosity to see if there were any gay rugby teams. He was shocked to discover several, including one recently founded in Washington, D.C. shortly after he had left. He immediately contacted members of that team, the Washington Renegades, and discovered that their team had tapped a market of gay athletes heretofore unserved. The Renegades have been very successful in recruiting and developing ruggers in their area.
The more Derrick talked with the Renegades members, the more he realized that the idea could be successfully ported to San Francisco. After recruiting Cameron Geddes and Bryce Eberhart (both ex-college ruggers and both gay) through the Internet, the trio set about assembling a group of interested players through word of mouth alone. By March 2000 there was a core of a dozen gay men interested in predominantly gay rugby team in San Francisco. A general interest email list was created for that dozen. The team name and colors were chosen in June 2000 and the nation’s second gay-friendly rugby football club was officially founded in October 14, 2000. Nine players attended first organized practice.
In late October 2000, Fog Rugby became an official provisional member of the Northern California Rugby Football Union (NCRFU), the local area governing body for rugby clubs in Northern California. The Fog entered the Union in Division III. The team appointed Kevin Waizenhofer, an experienced college football coach and ex-rugger at the United States Military Academy (Westpoint) as the Club’s first head coach. Members of the Berkeley All-BluesWRFC and their coach, Kathy Flores, also assisted in coaching those first few months.
Soon after, Derrick’s old flag football buddies, Mark Bingham and Jason Reimueller joined the team. Mark proved to be a potent force on the team. Although the ex-University of California, Berkeley rugger was not part of organizing or starting the team, he proved to be every bit a charismatic leader on the pitch, helping to raise the level of intensity and play he knew the team would need to be competitive in the Union. He quickly became one of the key players on the team. And thanks to Bryce Eberhart’s tireless recruiting efforts, word of the team spread like wildfire. By December 2001, the player roster had grown to almost 30 players. The club elected its first Board: Derrick Mickle (Chief Officer/President), Cameron Geddes (Vice President), Greg Neil (Secretary), George L. (Treasurer), and Bryce Eberhart (Marketing/PR Chair).
In January 2001, eleven Fog players crossed the pond for a clinic put on by England’s second gay rugby team, the Manchester Village Spartans. The Spartans were also celebrating their second anniversary as a team. Joined by members of the Washington Renegades, Fog players played on a combined American side against the Spartans. For most Fog players, it was their first time ever playing in a rugby match.
By April 2001, the Fog’s roster had reached almost 50 players. On Saturday, April 7, 2001, the Fog had it’s first match against the Bay Area Baracus. Although the Fog lost 49-0, the experience was a important milestone for the team. It was the beginning of a fruitful and solid relationship between the two teams that continues to this day.
In May 2001, the Washington Renegades hosted the first IGRAB International Invitational for gay rugby teams. Officially a sevens tournament, there were also exhibition 15s matches. In the exhibition match between the Fog and the Renegades—the first time the teams had met in a 15s match—the Fog won 19-0.
Over the summer of 2001, the team took a bit of a “break” and held just Saturday touch rugby pick up games. This introduced rugby to a number of players who had been cautious to join before. The tradition of summer touch continues to this day—but now at Ocean Beach.
In August 2001, the club re-elected the 2000/2001 Board to a second year at the helm: Derrick Mickle (Chief Officer/President), Cameron Geddes (Vice President), Greg Neil (Secretary), George L. (Treasurer), and Bryce Eberhart (Marketing/PR Chair). The club also incorporated as a non-profit and was unanimously voted in as full members of the NCRFU.
Meanwhile, interest in forming other gay-friendly rugby club sprouted along with some interesting San Francisco Fog connections.
The summer of 2001 proved to be the calm before the storm for the Fog. Four days before the Fog’s first practices of the season, the United States fell victim to a series of terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Two Los Angeles-bound planes were crashed into the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York. Another L.A.-bound plane was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. And the San Francisco-bound United Flight 93 was crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. Mark Bingham was on that plane. He was 31.
Word soon emerged that the SF-bound plane was crashed after the passengers fought back to take over the plane. Mark Bingham was one of the four passengers who led the charge. Hailed as a hero, word soon emerged that he was gay and that he played rugby for a national championship team at Cal Berkeley—and for the Fog. A flurry of press soon followed the Club, eventually reaching international proportions, with mentions of the team in the New York Times, the Guardian (UK) and the Sydney Herald (Australia). HBO profiled Mark and the team in October 2001 in a 20-minute segment in their sports journalism television show, Real Sports.
In October 2001, at the invitation of the Redding (Calif.) Highlanders, the Fog played the first of the Bingham Memorial Stein competitions, a friendly competition between the two teams that would become an annual tradition. The Fog lost the match, but won the respect of the Redding team.
Later in October 2001, the Fog successfully lobbied IGRAB for the right to put on a 15s rugby tournament in San Francisco in 2002. The tournament was to be fashioned in the style of the Rugby World Cup. At the Fog’s urging, the cup prize was to be named the Mark Kendall Bingham Cup. The Bingham Cup became the informal name of the competition.
The press precipitated a surge of player interest in the Fog. Fog faced the challenge of incorporating these new, inexperienced players while preparing for its first season of play in the Union. Soldiering on through its first preseason schedule, the Fog showed its resilience by quickly incorporating the new players, beefing up its roster to almost 70 players.
In January 2002, the Fog sent a half a dozen players to Manchester, England for another rugby clinic and match. The Fog also began its first full season campaign as part of NCRFU Div. III play in January 2002, ending in April with a disappointing 1-10 win-loss record in what many consider to be the toughest rugby union in the United States. Both the #1 team in the nation (Chico) and the #3 team in the nation (the Fog’s old friends, the Baracus) played in NCRFU Division III in 2002.
The Fog also got a chance to meet the then-nascent Los Angeles team. In January 2002, the Fog sent its B-side to play the Los Angeles Rebellion for the first time on the pitch in LA. It was the Rebellions very first match. The upstart Rebellion won the match, setting the stage for a “bitter” rivalry. The next rematch would not take place until April 2002, again against a Fog B-side, but this time in San Francisco. The Fog won the match, giving the teams one win and one loss each against the other.
The weekend of June 28-29 2002 brought a new flurry of press for the Fog, but of a happier nature. After many months of preparation, coordinated by Chris Zerlaut, the Fog hosted eight teams for IGRAB’s second sanctioned tournament (and first Bingham Cup). Sponsored by Nike and Guinness, the tournament was held during San Francisco’s gay pride parade weekend. Press from around the world covered the event, including ESPN. The Fog fielded both an A and a B side. The A side emerged victorious and undefeated, defeating the London King’s Cross Steelers 27-5 in the final. Alice Hoglan, Mark Bingham’s mom, presented the Fog with the trophy. The event was profiled in a two-page article in Rugby World magazine, the premier rugby magazine in the world.
The Fog continued with its tradition of summer touch. In August, with most of the Board of Directors stepping down, the Club voted in a new Board of Director: Chris Zerlaut (President), Cameron Geddes (Vice President), Pete Arden (Secretary), Jason Snyder (Treasurer) and Pete Dubois (At-Large Member). Kevin Waizenhofer continued on as head coach.
The Fog began its third year with a roster of over 70 players. The new Board quickly secured Guinness as the team’s sponsor. The Fog also took the unusual route of securing The Chieftain Irish Pub, a “straight” bar, as a sponsor and the Club’s post-match social destination.
With a renewed sense of determination, the Fog waged through it’s pre-season. Assisting Coach Waizenhofer with coaching the team was Division I player, Sean Dmyterko. A seasoned forward, Dmyterko quickly helped the Fog see positive results during pre-season play. The Fog ended the fall pre-season with a 2-2 win-loss record, with wins against McGeorge and Redding, who traveled to San Francisco to lose the Bingham Memorial stein in a close and muddy match.
That fall, the Fog also gave back to the community. It hosted a youth rugby clinic in October 2002 with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. The event introduced rugby to over 50 disadvantaged youths.
In November 2002, the Fog traveled to Seattle to meet the Quake on their home turf. The Fog won the match, assisted in the front row by Vancouver Rogues founder Darren Elmore. Darrin was inspired to start the Rogues (originally the Whalers, and Canada’s first gay-friendly rugby team) in the summer of 2002 after coming to San Francisco several times in the spring 2002 to research a book on Mark Bingham and practicing with the Fog.
In December 2002, Outsports, a gay sports website, polled its readers about who were the Top Ten best gay sports teams in the nation. The Fog came in #4 in the nation.
The 2003 Union season from January to April 2003 continued to bring heartbreak to the Fog. The Fog ended the season again with a 1-9 win-loss record, securing only one win against McGeorge. The record does not reflect the three close matches the Fog could have won, but did not. The Fog played the eventual national Division III winners, Reno Zephyrs, twice in 2003.
More determined than ever to end the season on a high note, the team traveled in May 2003 to Seattle once more for first West Coast Gay Rugby Invitational, hosted by the Quake. The Fog met the Los Angeles Rebellion, Seattle Quake and Vancouver Rogues and emerged undefeated.
In June 2003, the Fog hosted it’s first local tournament, the Fog Fest. Designed to be a “rugby whores” tournament, players signed up and were assigned randomly to teams. Rules stated that the “heaviest guy on the team is the team captain.” The tournament drew players from Houston, Vancouver, New York and Los Angeles, as well as whores from Bay Area straight teams. The tournament was a huge success and was positively received by the NCRFU.
The Fog took the rest of the summer “off,” moving touch rugby from the grassy (but heavily policed) pitches of the Marina district, to breezy Ocean Beach. In August, the Club elected its fourth Board: Chris Zerlaut (President), Pete Dubois (Vice President), Vince Lane (Secretary), Paul Forbes (Treasurer), and Jerry Acosta (At-Large member).
In September, the Fog appointed John Somers, Coach of the Bay Area Baracus, to assist Kevin Waizenhofer in coaching the Fog. A venerable Ireland-born rugger, Somers brought a wealth of rugby coaching experience, from youth sides, to women’s sides, to select men’s sides. Particularly valuable was his experience in developing rugby teams.
Waizenhofer and Somers put the Fog through a rigorous pre-season training regime, with a long-term goal of eventually defending the Fog’s claim to the Bingham Cup in May 2004 in London. The results of this tougher approach to training were telling: a 3-3-1 win-loss-draw record in the pre-season. The Fog won against Redding in the Bingham Memorial stein competition, held in Reno, NV. The Fog also won against the Seattle Quake, who traveled to San Francisco to do battle in November 2003. The Fog traveled to Phoenix to participate in the Critterfest rugby tournament, losing three games in one day to D1 and D2 Arizona teams. The third Fog vs. Rebellion meeting in Los Angeles in October 2002 resulted in a tie. The Fog ended the pre-season with a win against the South Bay Marauders in January 2004.
Mark Bingham (1970-2001)
One of our brothers, Mark Bingham, was tragically taken from us on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attack on our nation. He was one of the 38 passengers on hijacked United Airlines flight 93 that crashed outside of Pittsburgh. Mark was 31 years old.
Mark epitomized what it means to be a Fog rugger, and we all learned a great deal from him. Aside from being a superb player, “Bear Trap” was a true gentleman and a generous friend. He is sorely missed.
The team received the following email from Mark a few weeks before his death. He wrote it when he learned that the Fog had been accepted as a permanent member of the Northern California Rugby Football Union.
Wow! What an inspiring email. This is a huge step forward for gay rugby.
When I started playing rugby at the age of 16, I always thought that my interest in other guys would be an anathema — completely repulsive to the guys on my team — and to the people I was knocking the shit out of on the other team. I loved the game, but KNEW I would need to keep my sexuality a secret forever. I feared total rejection.
As we worked and sweated and ran and talked together this year, I finally felt accepted as a gay man and a rugby player. My two irreconcilable worlds came together.
Now we've been accepted into the union and the road is going to get harder. We need to work harder. We need to get better. We have the chance to be role models for other gay folks who wanted to play sports, but never felt good enough or strong enough. More importantly, we have the chance to show the other teams in the league that we are as good as they are. Good rugby players. Good partiers. Good sports. Good men.
Gay men weren't always wallflowers waiting on the sideline. We have the opportunity to let these other athletes know that gay men were around all along — on their little league teams, in their classes, being their friends.
This is a great opportunity to change a lot of people's minds, and to reach a group that might never have had to know or hear about gay people.
Let's go make some new friends…and win a few games.
Congratulations, my brothers in rugby.
Be well, Mark. We love you and miss you tremendously.
For more about Mark Bingham, we recommend watching ESPN's feature video, A 9/11 Hero's Lasting Impact on Rugby.