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Rugby Team Leader Killed on 9-11

March 12, 2002 GMT

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The predominantly gay rugby team Mark Bingham once led has played without its hardest-hitting member since Sept. 11, when he died a hero.

On paper, the season hasn’t been a success for the Fog _ the team has won one of six games _ but members say they’re playing to honor Bingham and his goal of earning respect for gay athletes.

``We need to show ... we may be mostly gay but we can hold our own,″ says team founder Derrick Mickle. ``That’s what he would have wanted.″

Six months after the terrorist attacks, Fog players say they miss Bingham’s vivacious personality, not to mention his on-the-field intensity.

Bingham, 31, was sitting within reach of the cockpit on United Flight 93 and is believed to be one of those who fought the terrorists and caused the plane to crash in rural Pennsylvania instead of its apparent target in Washington.

Now, liberals and conservatives alike invoke Bingham’s name as an example of America’s strength and spirit.

``He was absolutely fearless,″ says forward Bryce Eberhart. ``He was the guy you didn’t want coming at you when you were about to catch a ball on a kickoff.″

As a former member of a national champion rugby team at the University of California, Berkeley, Bingham brought experience to the team founded in October 2000.

Some players were upset by his intensity, but his personality won them over. At 6 feet 5 inches and 220 pounds, Bingham became the team’s main forward and a charismatic leader.

In an e-mail he sent Fog players shortly before the attacks, Bingham said joining the team helped him reconcile two seemingly opposing identities.

``As we worked and sweated and ran and talked together this year,″ he wrote, ``I finally felt accepted as a gay man and a rugby player.″

The Fog has felt Bingham’s loss on the field. The team spent last year playing exhibition games but joined the Northern California Rugby Union for what has proven a difficult 2002 season.

``We don’t always play with a tremendous amount of skill,″ says Eberhart, ``but we always play with a tremendous amount of heart.″

Some Fog players have donated to Bingham’s memorial fund at Berkeley. They also are hosting eight other gay rugby teams for an international tournament _ The Mark Bingham Cup _ during San Francisco’s Gay Pride rally June 29 and 30 and hope to raise $30,000 for the event.


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