With over 50 years of involvement in the sport of rugby, Steve Cohen has been the catalyst in developing player safety, refereeing and promoting the game at the grassroots level.
“Arguments happen all the time over who you would pick to start a new team. Would it be Joe Montana or Tom Brady in football, Jonah Lomu or Johny Wilkinson or Richie McCaw in rugby, or Michael Jordan or LeBron James in basketball? Pick whomever you want, there’d be pros and cons. Regardless, they’d all deserve consideration. No conversation could take place regarding administrators and contributors to American Rugby over the last 50 years without Steve Cohen’s name being mentioned. Every single one of us would be thrilled to find out Steve Cohen was on our side, helping to get the ball over the line. All while setting and meeting the highest standards. Steve may not have been in the highest-profile positions at USA Rugby, but that’s the point. He’s chosen to help the men and women on the ground achieve, not chasing a title or spotlight. And American rugby from coast to coast is demonstrably better for it,” said Steven Hiatt, Eagle 232.
Cohen attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York from 1966 to 1970 earning an engineering degree leading to a career in the design and construction of power plants. In 1969 he joined the newly established Schenectady Reds Rugby Football Club. In 1976 he moved to Ann Arbor and joined the University of Michigan Rugby Football Club. He was also named to representative teams like the Middle Age Rugby Side (MARS) Golden Oldies team and the USA Owls. With MARS, Cohen played against the Silver Ferns, the All Blacks Over 35s, while on tour in New Zealand. His involvement with MARS spanned 27 years. During the later years of his playing career, he coached for the University of Michigan Women’s Rugby Football Club from 1980 to 1981.
Most notably, Steve’s presence has been felt as an administrator. He pioneered rugby safety in the United States by initiating and nationally distributing “Safety Precaution Recommendations” in 1995, “Making Rugby Safer” in 1998 and “Safer Rugby Program” in 2008 to promote and encourage safe rugby practices with input and support of medical and sports safety professionals. He created and organized an annual player safety clinic for the East Penn Rugby Union and established numerous procedural regulations and procedures for confirming match day arrangements, hosting tournaments, injury reporting, field preparation and sideline policy.
From 1997 through 2004, Steve served on the collegiate committee of USA Rugby. This led to creation of the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) where he served as President & Chairman for 13 years. NSCRO was rebranded National Collegiate Rugby in 2020. During this time the organization grew from 160 clubs to over 600 men’s and women’s college teams.
“Steve gave purpose to coaches, including myself who benefitted from his hard work. Without NSCRO, the small team that started would have never attained varsity status. Steve Cohen put small colleges on the map and gave them a platform to grow and succeed in, that would not have existed if not for his perseverance, dedication, and the thousands of hours he puts in daily. Steve’s leadership and tireless dedication to this seemingly small insignificant part of the rugby community has grown into the largest collegiate rugby organization in the United States with over 600 teams in all divisions, genders and 15,000 players. Steve laid an unbreakable foundation with NSCRO that the rest of American rugby will benefit from for many generations to come,” said friend, Jeremy Treece.
Steve was the event director for numerous local and territorial collegiate playoffs and championship events. He acted as head referee for over 50 tournaments, while simultaneously coordinating tournament schedules, rules, and assignment of referees. He refereed from 1974 to 2012 and was a charter member of the USARFU Referees & Laws Committee in 1980 serving as treasurer and member of the Laws Sub-Committee. He supported the growth of women’s rugby as head referee for the first five Women’s National Rugby Championships in Chicago from 1978 to 1982, worked with the Midwest Women’s RFU providing training for women referees from 1980 to 1983, and wrote numerous articles for Rugby Magazine promoting women’s rugby.
As Chairman of the Midwest Rugby Referee Society, Steve established its first-ever referee grading system, wrote referee exams, and published the newsletter “In Control,” to develop and improve the quality of refereeing in the Midwest RFU, including the training of women referees. He also organized numerous referee training clinics for the Midwest, Michigan, and East Penn Rugby Referee Societies, as well as the first-ever National Referees Seminar in 1982.