Pat Ruwe ’11 first stood along the sidelines of the Yale Bowl when he was a young water boy, but it was hardly the first time that a member of his family had been there. More than a decade earlier, Ruwe’s father, Pat Ruwe ’83 MED ’87 had lead the Yale football team as the 106th captain. This Saturday the younger Ruwe will again step foot on the Yale Bowl, dressed in the Bulldog uniform. While less than one-sixth of Yale students are legacies, Ruwe, Charle Neil ’12 and Matt Miller ’12 are all part of a smaller subset of that group — athletes who had a parent also play for the Bulldogs.
Charlie Neil already stands out among Yale athletes because he plays both soccer and baseball. In fact, these are the same two sports his father played at Yale.
Charlie said he played these sports growing up because his father was a good coach at those sports. He added that while he made the decision to play these sports in college, the opportunity to play at such a top-notch school was a no-brainer.
“Growing up we were always the biggest Yale fans ever,” Charlie said. “We would go to every Yale-Harvard game. I knew I really wanted to go to a really good school. When the soccer and baseball coaches recruited me, it was no decision. I’d loved Yale my whole life. I wouldn’t say I necessarily did it because he came here, although it is cool that he also did it.”
Although Dr. Ruwe, is a doctor for the football team, he said he did not encourage his son to play football at a young age.
“My dad signed me up for pretty much every sport except football,” Ruwe said. “I didn’t start playing seriously until high school. It all worked out in the end.”
In the end, Pat chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and play for the Yale football team as an outside linebacker.
Finally, for Matt, who plays midfield on the lacrosse team, Yale was his own decision, but his father, who played basketball at Yale, did encourage him to play lacrosse.
Matt said his dad never influenced his college decision and left his son free to make his own choice.
“I encouraged him to look around on his own,” Randy Miller ’76 said. “In the end I was happy [that he chose] Yale.”
And for the University’s part, the students’ athletic prowess played a much larger role in the admissions process than their legacy status, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel ’75 said Thursday.
“If a student is both a recruited athlete and a legacy, the primary consideration in the admissions process is going to be to the fact that they’re a recruited athlete,” he said. “The evaluation of their athletic ability or their ability to contribute to the Yale team is entirely a judgment we leave to the coaches.”
A Shared Experience
Both Matt’s and Charlie’s fathers said their sons’ athletic endeavors were a welcome excuse to return to campus.
“I’m just enormously proud of [Charlie],” Jim Neil ’76 said. “There’s no question it’s more fun for me that he’s there. It helps to bring back memories. It’s kind of neat to go out on the baseball field and soccer field and to look out there and remember being on the field, standing in the same spot.”
Charlie, who lives in Dallas, Texas, said his father frequently flies up to Yale to watch his games.
Dr. Ruwe spoke of similar feelings toward Yale football. He said both he and his son are not only playing in the same bowl and practicing on the same field, but also some of the coaches and equipment guys from his time are now taking care of Pat.
“The whole sense of football and what it means to play for Yale still means a great deal to me,” Dr. Ruwe said. “I’m happy to share that experience with Patrick.”
Mr. Miller added that Matt’s position on a team gives him and his wife a reason to go see the games. He said going back to Yale adds a father-son element to the experience, and it has strengthened his own ties to Yale.
Differences in the Modern Era
Pat, Charlie and Matt all, for one reason or another, chose to follow in their father’s footsteps and become a Yale athlete. But while the two generations may have shared many experiences, fathers of all three have noted that the differences from when they competed are just as striking.
All three father-son pairs spoke of the greater emphasis on off-season training.
Both Neil and Ruwe played two sports at Yale in their time, when such an occurrence was not uncommon. Now, however, athletes playing two sports is a rarity.
Neil said that with the intense off-season requirements athletes have, he could not imagine being a two-sport athlete in college today.
“When I played baseball in the spring and I missed spring soccer practice, it didn’t hurt me as much as it would today,” Neil said. “Now, when you miss an off-season, it’s much more difficult to keep up.”
Neil added that, at least in baseball, the travel schedule is a lot busier than he experienced decades ago.
Charlie said the increase in time commitment that an athlete devotes to his or her sports has made the teams a lot closer. He said while his dad formed very close friendships with students in his residential college, his team has been the basis of his friend group.
Pat said athletics had a more prominent role at Yale in his father’s time.
“Yale was a nationally recognized football program,” Pat said. “I think that Yale football was more respected on campus back then.”
Regardless of family tradition, the father-son pairs spoke of the privilege it is to be a Yale athlete.
“I don’t feel like I am fulfilling a family tradition or legacy,” Matt said. “I made my own decision to be here. It’s an honor to play with a Yale jersey on.”