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Jerry Benzwick: When the rugby ‘bug’ bit

Published:Saturday | October 1, 2016 | 12:00 AMDania Bogle
Chairman of the Jamaica Rugby Union, Jerry Benzwick. Patrick Planter/ Photographer

Many actors will relate stories of how the acting bug bit, and once in their system, they couldn't get it out.

For chairman of the Jamaica Rugby Union, Jerry Benzwick, it was the rugby bug that bit more than 30 years ago and the love of a sport, which started while he was a first former at St Catherine High School, never died.

"Rugby is a virus. It kind of gets into your system; it can't come out," he told The Gleaner.

If his name seems familiar, it's that for years, Benzwick, a trained actor, was also a regular feature on FAME FM's Full House Fridays.

Benzwick said he got into acting because he wanted to do radio work and did a course in voice and speech at the School of Drama

"I went just to do voice and a couple of girls from the drama class dragged me over there, and the drama teacher said I could stay, then I did a production and the acting bug bit me. The following semester, I registered. It changed my life because I really found my niche. Before that, I had no idea what I wanted to do," he shared.

Ironically, acting did eventually get him to do his first love.

After he went to promote a drama production on FAME FM, he was invited to return "anytime", and that eventually morphed into a position on staff.

All of that didn't stop his rugby career, however.

Championship-winning teams

Benzwick played rugby throughout high school and was on several championship-winning teams throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"There was a bunch of boys there (St Catherine) introducing sports and rugby got me excited because what I thought of was helmets, shoulder pads, and locker rooms. I was thinking American football. I went to the meeting and it wasn't that.

However, he got even more excited when he realised that rugby had none of the trappings he had presumed.

"It's the kind of sport that attracted me. A team sport is what I love where you can work with others, and I found rugby to be the purest team sports. Rugby is a full-on team sport where everybody has to pull their weight," he explained.

"Rugby was built on a foundation of discipline, integrity, honesty, solidarity, respect, and it is now the core values of rugby that we live by. When I was a child playing rugby, our coach would say 'rugby man don't do certain things'," he added.

After high school, he continued to play as part of St Catherine Masters team, the Thundercats.

After spending two years living in New York, during which time he worked at a restaurant as a floor manager, at schools, and in dramas, Benzwick returned to Jamaica and was invited to run for the position JRU chairman.

"When I told them I was coming back, they told me they wanted me to run for chairman. They told me I was the person who would have the right stuff to bring the union into the place where it needs to be."

He was elected unopposed on July 17.

Benzwick, who is also a motivational speaker, has a lot of plans to move the sport forward locally.

"(Rugby) has been mismanaged. We are sitting on a gold mine. Rugby has unlimited potential for tourism. Everybody who plays rugby travels, however nobody is travelling to Jamaica. My mandate is to change that and get big tournaments here right throughout the year" he said.

"I intend to make rugby the national sport."

This is a task with which he is working alongside vice-chairman Keisha Ann Down, and the pair is on a social media drive to help their functions.

The JRU is currently rebranding, but one issue is the shortage of green space. He also wants to improve the image of the sport with the international body, too, which would open doors for funding.