Note to readers: Below is an excerpt from the story, word for word, that ran in this newspaper on Sept. 20, 1981.
The controversial rugby game between the South African Springboks and a group of Midwest All Stars didn’t turn out to be such a remote location after all — at least not for Racine residents.
At about 8:30 Saturday morning, four vans and a number of cars pulled up at Roosevelt Park, along Lake Michigan south of 21st Street, and out stepped the Springboks and their opponents.
Forty-five minutes later, the game that had been kept secret from the world began.
A small group of protesters, all apparently from the Racine area, disrupted play briefly. Several protesters scuffled with police and game officials and two were arrested.
Earlier in the week, the game, originally scheduled for Chicago, had been forced underground because of fears of demonstrations by persons opposed to the South African government’s apartheid policy of racial separation.
Several sites in the Chicago area and southeastern Wisconsin were rumored, but even most of the participants were not informed of the site until early this morning.
The strategy of secrecy apparently worked. By midway point in the game, which the Springboks won 46-12, about 500 persons ringed the field, but most were Midwest rugby fans and members of the news media.
As the game neared an end, however, about a dozen protesters showed up. A brief scuffle broke out on the field.
Arrested were School Board member Marvin Happel, 45, of 1128 College Ave., and Joseph L. Harris, 38, of 1827 Chatham St., active in Racine civil rights groups. Both were charged with disorderly conduct.
Several protesters from the Chicago area arrived at the field almost an hour after the game had ended and the players and most spectators had left.
Despite the lack of extensive protests, the game is likely to create controversy, locally and elsewhere.
One member of the Racine-Kenosha Rugby Club, the local sponsor of the game, said he feared “repercussions from the city.”
According to the club member, who identified himself only as a “Racine resident and rugby player,” the local club had the Roosevelt field reserved for a regular season game.
“We had the field already and were glad to host the game,” he said. “It’s too bad there had to be this cloak of secrecy. Politics should be kept out of sports.”
A spokesman for the city Parks and Recreation Department confirmed that the local rugby club regularly uses the Roosevelt field.
However, the spokesman said that to his knowledge the city was not informed the Springboks would play at the site. He said he doubted the city would have issued a permit “for that specific game.”
Fans and players alike drank beer at the game. The Park and Recreation Department spokesman said special permits are necessary for the consumption of beer in city parks.
Dave Kirk, president of the Racine-Kenosha Rugby Club, said Pershing Park had been reserved several weeks ago for a possible game, but when Park and Recreation Department officials found out last week the game would be with the Springboks the reservation was canceled.
Kirk said city officials were told the local club was still interested in being host to the game, but added the Roosevelt Park site was not specifically mentioned.
Racine police detective Sgt. Robert Holton said his department was first informed of the game at 8:20 a.m., when they were called by a Milwaukee newspaper reporter.
“We called our administrative staff for additional manpower and assigned four men for traffic control,” Holton said.
Later in the game, six plain-clothes officers stationed themselves on the sidelines, and several squad cars could be seen in the surrounding neighborhood.
A clandestine operation, using late night phone calls and secret checkpoints, was used to organize the game. Dale Hibbard of the Lake Geneva Rugby Club explained the scenario.
“There were two sites under final consideration,” Hibbard said. “I had lined up a farmer near Lake Geneva who said he would mark off one of his fields if we’d let him sell sweet-corn to the fans.
“We received phone calls around midnight and were told to meet at a checkpoint at the Howard Johnson’s on Highway 50 (in Kenosha County) at 8:15 this morning.
“At that time, we were given directions to this field here. Before that none of us knew exactly where it would be.”
A member of the Racine-Kenosha club said a meeting was held last night at his home to complete plans for the game. The system of phone calls to participants then began.
The national sponsor of the game was a consortium of amateur rugby associations. The Midwest Rugby Union was the regional sponsor.
Representatives of the U.S.A. Rugby Union and the midwest union attended the game and sold programs, complete with lineups.
One of the representatives said the program sales would help support the Springboks tour of the U.S. He refused to comment further on the game.
City attracts world attention
The eyes of the world were focused on Racine Saturday morning as the South African Springboks finally met the Midwest All Stars for their rugby match.
Within a half hour after the game began, news media representatives flocked to south side Roosevelt Park, the secret site of the controversial game.
Many of the reporters had dogged the Springboks for days, as speculation about where the game would be played was rampant.
Nineteen reporters from South Africa were at the game, but they may have been the only journalists interested mainly in the outcome of the contest.
Most reporters asked questions about the method used to sneak the Springboks to the site and about the political reactions to the game.
Shortly after the game ended, the Journal Times newsroom was barraged with phone calls from reporters, seeking information on the game.
A London Times correspondent called from that paper’s New York bureau. A New Zealand radio network phoned. Other callers included reporters from WBAI, a major radio station in New York City, and from the Reuters news service, the Associated Press and United Press International.
Peter Coleman of the New Zealand network said listeners in that country are very interested in the Springboks tour, especially in view of the riots which broke out during the team’s recent tour there.
Forty-three persons were injured and 146 arrested in New Zealand when violence broke out during protests over the Springboks appearance.