Olympic Rugby’s Reigning Champion Celebrated at UC Davis Alma Mater

Play during the gold medal rugby match at the 1924 Olympics
UC Davis alum Colby E. “Babe” Slater, third from left, plays in the gold medal rugby match at the 1924 Olympics. (UC Davis Library photo)

This summer rugby will be played at the Olympic Games for the first time since 1924, when team captain Colby E. “Babe” Slater — a University of California, Davis, alum, two-time gold medalist and member of the International Rugby Hall of Fame — led the American team to victory. The upset over the French team at the 1924 Paris Games made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

To celebrate rugby’s return to the Olympic stage, the UC Davis Library is showcasing its unique collection about Slater’s life, including his gold-medal-winning Olympic experiences in 1920 and 1924, service in World War I, and leadership on campus and in the greater Sacramento area. Materials from the collection were presented to the International Olympic Committee as they considered reintroducing rugby to the Olympics.

Exhibit and event

Slater's Olympic gold medals in a case
Colby E. “Babe” Slater's gold medals from 1920 and 1924. (UC Davis Athletics photo)

A special exhibit of artifacts from the Colby E. “Babe” Slater Collection — part of the library’s Special Collections — is on display in the lobby of UC Davis’ Peter J. Shields Library through Dec. 2, 2016.

Slater’s son-in-law, Dick McCapes, who, together with his late wife, Marilyn Slater McCapes, donated the materials to Special Collections, will be at an event to celebrate Slater’s legacy at the UC Davis Library on Saturday, July 30, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Guests must RSVP by July 21 to attend; event details are available online.

“From our family’s standpoint, this is a priceless collection, and knowing that it will be preserved in perpetuity was important to Marilyn,” Dick McCapes said. “We are grateful to Shields Library, Intercollegiate Athletics and others on campus who worked with us to make this a reality.”

The Colby E. “Babe” Slater Collection includes the following treasures:

  • Photographs, posters, news stories and other memorabilia from the Olympic Games in 1920 (Antwerp, Belgium) and 1924 (Paris), including a souvenir Olympic pennant from 1924;
  • A diary Slater wrote during his service on the Western Front during World War I; and
  • Photographs and clippings from the early days of UC Davis, when it was still the University Farm School.

About Slater

Born on April 30, 1896, in Berkeley, California, Slater played rugby during middle and high school. He enrolled in a three-year course in agriculture at the University Farm School (now UC Davis) in 1914. During his time on campus, Slater was a star athlete in baseball, basketball and football (the school had no rugby team at the time) and chair of Picnic Day, one of UC Davis’ longest-standing annual traditions.

A pennant with the Olympic rings
A 1924 Olympic pennant from the Slater Collection. (UC Davis Library photo)

Just a few months after graduating in May 1917, he joined the army, serving with the medical corps in France during the First World War.

Slater played rugby for the Berkeley Titans and San Francisco’s Olympic Club. In 1919, he was tapped for the 1920 Olympic rugby team. He was elected captain of the 1924 team by his teammates. Off the rugby field, Slater was a successful farmer in Clarksburg, near Sacramento, California.

Historic collection goes digital

As part of the library’s ongoing work to make its unique collections widely accessible, the library has digitized the Slater Collection and created an online exhibit. In early 2017 the site will be expanded to include the entire Slater Collection, in line with the library’s vision of using digital technology to provide public access to its collections.

The UC Davis Library holds over 10 million items, in a wide array of digital and physical formats. Special Collections houses the library’s rare books, manuscripts and other unique materials of historic value, which cover topics ranging from agriculture, winemaking and food sciences, to poetry, experimental theater, and political and social movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, among many others.

Rugby’s reign continues

Slater’s name has long been synonymous with athletic excellence at UC Davis. His legacy lives on through the university’s Colby E. “Babe” Slater Athletic Hall of Fame, where Slater’s two gold medals are usually on display, and the Colby E. “Babe” Slater Award, which has recognized the outstanding male student-athlete of the year since 1966.

Fittingly, this year, as his sport of rugby prepares to re-emerge on the world’s greatest stage, UC Davis’ own rugby club teams had a banner year, with both the men’s and women’s teams winning their national championships.

“Babe would be really pleased to see rugby re-enter the Olympics,” said Dick McCapes, “and he would be equally pleased with the accomplishments of both UC Davis rugby teams in winning their national championships.”

Media Resources

Julia Ann Easley, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-752-8248, jaeasley@ucdavis.edu

Jessica Nusbaum, UC Davis Library, 530-752-4145, jlnusbaum@ucdavis.edu

Jean Korinke, UC Davis Library, 530-574-0187, jfkorinke@ucdavis.edu

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