BERKELEY – To be chaired off a rugby pitch upon players’ shoulders is an honor typically reserved for captains, a gesture of thanks for dedicated seasons and collegiate careers. But the Golden Bears behaved differently in June after they won the first 7s title in program history at the Collegiate Rugby Championship, where NBC cameras showed California’s athletic trainer, David Stenger, being raised onto the shoulders of his student-athletes as coaches and fans cheered them on.
Prior to the national championships, Stenger had announced that he would retire after the tournament, concluding 40 years of service to the University of California in Intercollegiate Athletics, where he cared for every Bears rugby team since 1973. On a team whose history includes only six head coaches over 132 years of existence, Stenger was a stalwart presence with Cal rugby and a man who personified the program’s culture of longevity.
“Dave’s retirement is a true milestone in the long history of Cal rugby,” said Jack Clark, who depended on Stenger’s skills when Clark was a player in the 1970s, an assistant coach in 1982-83 and, for the previous 30 years, head coach. “No individual has been with the team longer and contributed more on a daily basis. Every day that I have been in the Cal rugby program as a player and coach, Dave Stenger has been there for us. It is hard to put into words what he has meant to us and how much he will be missed.”
The University of California and Cal rugby program have welcomed Brynn Lewis, MS ATC, as Stenger’s successor. Lewis assumed the full-time role as team athletic trainer this summer after serving in 2012-13 as a certified intern athletic trainer with responsibilities to rugby as well as men’s soccer and track & field.
“Brynn proved in working with us last season that she has the chops for the position,” coach Clark said. “She is skilled at all the parts of the job where competency is required.”
Ms. Lewis, who hails from Seattle, arrived in Berkeley from New York, where she was an athletic training student at Long Island University in Brooklyn and also completed rotations at Columbia University and Wagner College. She received her Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees, both in Athletic Training and Sport Science, from LIU-Brooklyn, where she also competed as a varsity scholarship student-athlete in softball.
“I am so thankful to be able to continue my career with the University of California and the Cal rugby program,” said Lewis. “Being able to dedicate my time to the team this past spring and learn from Dave Stenger was an amazing experience. I am looking forward to continuing to uphold the high standard of medical care that he set.”
Four decades prior to the start of Lewis’s Cal career, David Stenger arrived in Berkeley after receiving his Master in Education from the University of Arizona, preceded by a Bachelor of Science in Education from Ohio University. Born in Cleveland and raised in the suburbs of Lyndhurst and Moreland Hills, Stenger graduated from Orange High School in Orange Village, Ohio, where he gained his first experience as the student manager and athletic trainer for the football and basketball teams, continuing to hone those skills as an athletic trainer at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Dave married Patricia Kiplinger of Wheat Ridge, Colo., in 1981. Mrs. Stenger, an architect with The Dahlin Group in Pleasanton, and Dave have raised two daughters: Meghan, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and Psychology from Claremont McKenna College in 2010 and is in her first year of the MBA program at the Haas School of Business; and Elizabeth, who received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Linfield College in 2012 and is now enrolled in the Master’s program in Zoo Conservation & Biology and Plymouth University in England.
Stenger served at Cal under six Chancellors, five Directors of Athletics and three head rugby coaches, with Jack Clark preceded by two Cal Athletic Hall of Famers in Ned Anderson and, during Stenger’s first two years, Miles “Doc” Hudson. In addition to rugby, Stenger cared for student-athletes across a wide range of Cal’s intercollegiate teams, including football, basketball, baseball, soccer, track & field, gymnastics and water polo.
Among all his teams, only one remained Stenger’s responsibility throughout his entire 40-year career at Cal: rugby.
A Certified Athletic Trainer and member of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and College Athletic Trainers’ Society, Stenger also helped to develop and supervise the Student-Athlete Clinics at the University Health Service. Before the age of computers, he took charge of scheduling for student-athletes with Sports Medicine Physicians, authorizing special testing and surgeries. “The real pleasure in this,” he said, “was that I was involved with the entire student-athlete population at both Harmon Gym, now Haas Pavilion, and Memorial Stadium, now the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance.”
Following a retirement party for him this summer at Memorial Stadium hosted by the Department of Sports Medicine, Stenger will be honored again at the upcoming Cal Rugby Reunion Dinner on Sept. 13, when multiple generations of Rugby Bears will gather to celebrate his career and friendship.
“I have been truly privileged to spend my career as an athletic trainer at Cal,” said Stenger. “Privileged to be associated with such a fine University and privileged to be associated with all the great teams, from my first year in 1973 with men’s water polo’s national championship, football’s Pac-8 Co-Championship in 1975, men’s soccer’s Pac-10 Championship on 2006 and ‘07, and then there are the 27 rugby collegiate national championships.”
Those titles, Stenger added, are not the reasons he treasures those teams: “Regardless of the success of the teams, the most rewarding part of my career has been the individual athletes I have had the privilege of working with. From champions, to Olympians, to walk-ons, they are the ones I will remember the most. I have always been most gratified to ‘keep them playing.’ And they have always responded with commitment and passion. Thank you for allowing me the privilege.”
Cal rugby will always treasure David Stenger. For more information about the Cal Rugby Reunion Dinner in Stenger’s honor on Sept. 13, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-643-1971.