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Colby E. "Babe" Slater



Colby "Babe" Slater was born on April 30, 1896 in Berkeley, California. He had two older brothers and an older sister.

Babe and his brother Norman attended Berkeley High School, played on the school's athletic teams, and participated in sporting events on the University of California campus in Berkeley. In 1912, Babe and Norman led the Berkeley High School rugby team to county, regional, and state titles.

In 1914, Babe became a student at the University Farm School in Davis (now the University of California, Davis). The University Farm School, a branch of the University of California's College of Agriculture, offered a three-year course in the principles and practices of agriculture. While at the University Farm, Slater starred in rugby, football, basketball, and baseball. He served as Basketball Team Captain, Junior Class President, House Manager for the Calpha Fraternity, Thanksgiving Day Special Chairman, Picnic Day Parade Chairman, and Picnic Day General Chairman.

When Slater graduated from the University Farm School in May 1917, the First World War was underway. Slater registered for the newly instated draft in June 1917, enlisted in the United States Army in September, and was promoted to Corporal in November.

Slater's company arrived in Southampton, England on July 19, 1918. He served with the Medical Corps and he and his company were "on the move" from July to November in France and Belgium, tending to wounded soldiers, evacuating them from battlefields to hospitals, and setting up dressing stations. Often they came under fire from German aircraft and shelling since they had to work near the front lines. On November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany, and the fighting stopped. Slater's company remained in France until April 1919, when they were able to sail back to America. From New York, Slater and other returning soldiers traveled by rail to California. On May 9, 1919, they received a heroes' welcome in San Francisco. Slater's military service ended May 23, 1919.

After Slater returned from the war, he raised sheep, hogs, and feed in Woodland, California. Still an outstanding athlete, Slater played and coached for the Woodland, Yolo Post No. 77, American Legion's football and basketball teams. Slater led Woodland's American Legion football team to the Northern California Championship in 1927.

Due to the soaring popularity of American football, rugby had virtually disappeared from the United States except in California. In 1920, when the Olympic Games Committee allowed the formation of a United States Olympic Rugby Team, it was no surprise that every team member was a Californian. Slater was one of the first players chosen for the team. The 1920 Olympic Games were held in Antwerp, Belgium. The U.S. Olympic Rugby Team was the only team that dared to challenge the powerful French team, and the French eventually condescended to play the inexperienced Americans. On September 5, 1920, the Americans won the gold medal by unexpectedly beating the French, 8-0.

In 1924, the U.S. Olympic Rugby Team was again made up of Californians, with the exception of one player from the eastern U.S. Babe Slater was the first player chosen for the team and was subsequently elected team captain by his teammates. His brother Norman was also on the team. At the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, only three teams entered the rugby competition: France, Romania, and the United States. Although the Americans had been well received in London, where they had played three exhibition games against English rugby teams, the French public was hostile toward the U.S. team. The French rugby team, regarded as the most skilled in the world, easily beat the Romanians, 61-3 on May 4, 1924.

On May 11th, the United States defeated Romania 37-0. The U.S. Olympic Rugby Team was mainly made up of basketball and American football players who did not have much experience playing rugby, yet their size, fitness, and athletic ability made them formidable opponents. On May 18, 1924, the U.S. Olympic Rugby Team won gold medals by defeating France 17-3 at Colombes Stadium. Angry French fans rioted in the stands, assaulted American supporters, and jeered the U.S. Olympic Rugby Team during the medal ceremony. After the American victory, the French government apologized for the behavior of the French fans. Due in part to the fans' violence, rugby was not included in future Olympic games.

Circa 1927, Slater moved from Woodland to Clarksburg, California and bought rich farming land located in the Holland Land Company subdivision. Slater farmed there for close to thirty years. Slater married Virginia Cave (1909-1991) in 1932, and they had one daughter, Marilyn. In 1955, Marilyn graduated from the University of California, Davis. She married Richard McCapes in August 1955. Soon after his daughter married, Slater retired from farming.

Slater was active in many University of California, Davis organizations including the Cal Aggie Alumni Association, Friends of the Davis Campus, the UC Davis Alumni Agricultural Advisory Committee, the UC Davis Alumni Scholarship Foundation, and the then secret campus society Sword and Sandals. He and Mrs. Slater were often honored guests for Picnic Day at UC Davis. Slater was a Picnic Day parade judge in 1956. In 1956 and 1957, he arranged for reunions of the classes of 1916 and 1917 to be held on the UC Davis campus during Picnic Day.

Also active in the local community, Slater was a member of the Woodland, Yolo Post No. 77, American Legion and the Woodland Elks Lodge, No. 1299. He was elected president of the Yolo County Farm Bureau in 1951 and 1952, and, over the years, he and Mrs. Slater went on many Farm Bureau trips including travel to Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Mexico.

Colby E. “Babe” Slater died on January 30, 1965. Later that year, the Calpha agricultural fraternity established the Colby E. "Babe" Slater Memorial Athletic Award at the University of California, Davis. This annual award and the "Babe" Slater Perpetual Athletic Trophy went each spring to the Davis student selected as Athlete of the Year. In addition, Slater was posthumously inducted into the Woodland Athletic Hall of Fame (1973) and the Cal Aggies Athletic Hall of Fame (1980) at the University of California, Davis.

Excerpted biography from the description of the Colby E. "Babe" Slater Collection D-394 at Special Collections, Library, University of California, Davis.  For further information contact:

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