Community Sports

Whatcom County rugby team remembers player who passed

Chuckanut's Micah Bartlett, left, evades Seattle's William Rasalika in the second half of the match at the Can-Am Sevens Rugby Tournament Saturday, July 11, at the Bellingham Polo Grounds.
Chuckanut's Micah Bartlett, left, evades Seattle's William Rasalika in the second half of the match at the Can-Am Sevens Rugby Tournament Saturday, July 11, at the Bellingham Polo Grounds. For The Bellingham Herald

The rugby family known as SETU, consisting of members of Whatcom County, won the Men’s Social title at the 37th Can Am Summer Sevens tournament on Saturday, July 11.

The Chuckanut Bay Rugby team, the Geoducks, host the tournament. This year 24 teams competed in the day-long event at the Bellingham Rugby and Polo Fields in Ferndale. The Seattle team, coached by Waisale Serevi, won the Men’s Competitive title. ORSU, a team from Portland, won the Women’s title.

SETU is named after Raymond Setu, a member of the Chuckanut Bay Rugby team from age 14 until he died at 18 four years ago from still-mysterious circumstances, his mother Faasoifua Taumaoe said. His cousins, who played rugby alongside him, formed this team as a way for players to come together annually for this tournament in his memory.

There is also a scholarship fund in Setu’s name that his family and friends hope will one day help rugby players go on to continue their education beyond high school. Right now, enough money has been raised to help young people cover the cost of playing rugby.

“Why I think doing the scholarship will help out,” Taumaoe said. “I was a single mom and I know how hard it is for some of them to afford school.”

Fifteen years now Taumaoe has helped the rugby team, and she has no intentions of stepping down from that volunteer position. This year, she spent the day cooking and providing food at the event, which began at 9 a.m. and continued until almost 6:30 p.m.

For Setu, rugby was life. He had planned to go on and keep playing, with dreams of competing on the collegiate level, his mother said.

Those dreams are living on in his namesake’s team, Setu’s cousin Locan Tafa said.

Tafa is one of the founding members of SETU and played for the Chuckanut Bay adult rugby team since he graduated from Bellingham High School in 2002.

Faapaia Soo, Tafa’s brother, agreed that coming together each year to play as a team that may go the entire year without a meeting, is a due to Setu’s legacy.

“This is a way for the next generation of players to remember him,” Soo said as he gestured to the children playing on the sidelines.

Joel Weisser helped to organize the tournament and nods in respect at the mention of Setu. He played alongside Tafa and Soo for over a decade on the Chuckanut Bay team.

“This is a family-oriented event,” Weisser said. “There are people I’ll see once a year and I know it will be here.”

Rugby is an aggressive game, but is something an athlete can participate in his or her whole life, Weisser said. There are leagues of every age group and competition level, from children’s teams to Old Boy’s clubs.

For Tafa, rugby with his brother and cousin was a way to stay in shape for football throughout high school, and then a way to continue being active after graduation. He was a lineman playing football, meaning he almost never touched the ball and would only block. Being able to score in rugby was what committed him to the sport.

“Once I got the feel of running the ball, it stuck with me,” Tafa said. “I’m all about that body-to-body contact.”

As a new father, Tafa no longer plans to play as competitively but he will come back every year to play with SETU as long as he is capable.

“I want to be that old boy who still comes out to just support,” he said.

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