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Pillar in East Tennessee rugby community dies in car wreck

The Reece Hathorn Memorial Rugby Scholarship will help children play rugby, who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford the sport.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Nobody loved rugby quite like Reece Hathorn.

The 22-year-old was a fanatic for the sport. According to his sister Taylor, he was always practicing, tackling and mentally preparing for the next game or practice.

She said playing rugby was a part of her brother's personality.

"He was someone who just lived his life 90 miles an hour, there's absolutely no other way to describe him," Taylor said.

The Hathorn family traveled a lot as Reece was growing up. They originally lived in Texas, then lived internationally for several years before returning to the states, and eventually Tennessee.

Overseas, Reece picked up a love for Rugby.

"It's a lifestyle," Taylor said. "You're tough and you take things, you take the hits, but you're still a gentleman when you play the sport."

Reece's old coach Dwayne said Reece was a "one-of-a-kind player."

"He was singularly probably the best kid I've ever coached," the coach said. "As far as tackling goes, it did not matter how big he was, Reece was gonna take him down."

Coach Dwayne also said Reece brought comradery, joy and a sense of team to the club sport.

Upon high school graduation, Reece took that tough mentality and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Taylor said it was tough for her brother, but he always prevailed. 

"He was so fiercely loyal and dedicated," Taylor said. "To us, to his team, and to his country."

On June 18, 2022, Reece died in a car accident. He was on his way to play golf with his family. It devastated them, and his rugby family, too.

"It was a massive shock for us because you see this happen to other people and other families and you never expect that it would ever happen to yours," Taylor said.

Taylor said it's been hard for the family to recover from Reece's death. But, one of the things giving them hope is the support from the rugby community. She said they never forgot Reece.

" You did not meet him and forget about him. There was absolutely no way that that was possible," Taylor said.

That's why the family set up a memorial scholarship in his name. They want to give back to the sport Reece loved so much.

"It's not the most widely played or known in the United States. But I believe that it builds great character and great team camaraderie," Taylor said.

She said she spent a good portion of her young adult life driving her brothers and their friends to rugby tournaments.

"We only have one team here, we have to travel everywhere for competition," Dwayne said.

The travel expenses can be a deterrent for some families from allowing their children to join rugby. That's where the scholarship comes in.

"The trips that they have to take are not inexpensive. So we want to make sure that if kids want to play there are opportunities for them to play," Taylor said.

So far the family has raised nearly $20,000 for a memorial scholarship. They hope to reach their goal of $30,000. The family also said they'll match up to that amount in donations.

They believe this is the best way to honor their son, brother and friend.

"I know that he'd be so excited to see the name of rugby spread throughout East Tennessee," Taylor said.

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