Jay Hanson was drawn to rugby while in high school at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, MD. Although Walter Johnson didn’t have a high school rugby program, neighboring high school Walt Whitman High School did. Jay was attracted to rugby by the "battle nature of the sport.” He liked the fact that “players stayed on the field all the time, no time outs, no squad changes for offense or defense. It was an Elegant Violence that called to me and I could see that the sport challenged an athlete's relentless pursuit for possession of the ball with the intent to score as a team from any place on the field.”
Jay finally got his first actual taste of playing rugby in 1972 when he joined the Ft. Worth Rugby Club while attending Texas Christian University. He enjoyed those early rugby days in Texas. “It was more of a cultural experience than just a sport when we traveled to play other teams in other cities and the social nature of the sport. Many of the teams, including Ft. Worth, had players from all over the world.”
By now, rugby was in Jay’s bloodstream. His goal was to find a job, but a job that allowed him the time to pursue his dream of being the best rugby player that he could be. He joined the Montgomery Rugby Club in Silver Spring, MD in the Spring of 1975. Later that year he joined the Washington Rugby Club in Washington, DC.
In 1976, France, fresh off a Five Nations Championship, toured the United States. Jay was selected at flanker for the Eastern Rugby Union in the first match of France’s USA Tour. Opposite him that day at the tail of the lineout was none other than Jean-Pierre Rives, one of the best flankers in the world and as Jay put it, “we played with open aggression from the opening whistle.”
Late in the first half, Jay snapped up a loose tap down from a French lineout, charged through a tackle attempt, and fed teammate Mike Sherlock. The loosehead prop charged down the blind side for the game’s first score. The score stood and at the halfway mark the scoreboard read ERU 6, France 0. Jay recalls the moment as if it happened yesterday.
“I clearly remember Ed Lee (Eastern Rugby Union Manager) running onto the field at the half with tears glistening in his eyes. He said, "This is the greatest day in American rugby I have ever seen. Do you know what you guys are doing? You are beating France! Simply amazing."
France went ahead in the second half when they fed their tall, lanky, young winger, a guy named Serge Blanco, and ended up winning the game 12 to 6. But Jay will never forget the look on Ed Lee's face that day...simply joyful.
While the ERU lost the game, that match earned Jay his first look with the U.S. National Team as they prepared for their first test of the modern era. “Even though I was not selected for the Eagles to play against Australia I stayed around the whole week prior to the game and met all the players and coaches. It was at that time that the Eagles coach, Dennis Storer, suggested that I switch over to hooker.”
Soon after, Jay was asked to join the Eagles assembly in Chicago for the Eagles vs France game as reserve hooker behind Morris O'Donnell. “I had never played a game at hooker at that time. Undaunted, I was ready to go in if needed.”
Moving to hooker was not Jay’s only move in 1976. Motivated “to play rugby in the best rugby environment in America at that time, Northern California,” he moved to San Francisco and the San Francisco Rugby Club. There, he faced weekly “tough schoolings” playing against the BATS, Seahawks, Sacramento Capitals, Paxos, and of course, the Old Blues from Berkeley. “The Old Blues Jeff Hollings was a keen competitor at hooker and I had to learn and thrive in order to survive in the front row. I am thankful that I had such a skilled adversary in Jeff and we stayed respectful competitors for many years. Johnny Everett, who followed in his wake for the Old Blues, was just as talented and passionate. I was blessed with superior competitors.”
Jay played with the San Francisco Rugby Club (now known as San Francisco Golden Gate Rugby Club) from 1976-1990.
Jay earned seven caps for the Eagles during his playing career which went from 1976-1985. He toured with the Eagles on their first three tours abroad to England (1977), Australia (1983) and Japan (1985).
He played for the Northern California Pelicans select side from 1976 to 1985 and represented the Pacific Coast Grizzlies from 1977 to 1985.
While he continued to play club rugby until 1990, Jay retired from competitive select side rugby after the 1985 Eagles Tour to Japan.
Jay started coaching rugby while he was still an active player. He coached the Northern California High School champions, the Mission High School rugby team, from 1978 to 1980. In the early 1980s, Jay coached the newly formed San Francisco Women’s Rugby Club. He coached the San Francisco Rugby Club in 1986-87 and was the Pacific Coast Grizzlies assistant coach when they won the Inter-Territorial Tournament in 1988. Jay also coached the Northern California Pelicans in the late 1980s.
Jay most recently helped organize and coach various age-grade levels at the Sierra Foothills Rugby Club and is a co-coach for the Sierra Foothills Collegiate rugby team. This past year he also served as an assistant coach for the Northern California Small College Select Side.
He was the president of the Sacramento Valley Youth Rugby Organization from 2010-11 and sat on the Board of Directors of the Northern California Youth Rugby Association in 2010-11.
Jay has been in the Hearth Products industry (fireplaces, wood stoves, gas logs and Barbeques) since 1980. He created and operates his own sales agency and distribution company, Sierra Marketing Associates Inc., and has served on the Board of Directors for both the Western Regional Trade Association and the National Trade Association of the Hearth Products and Barbeque Association (HPBA) for over 30 years.