Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Brief History of The M.I.T. Rugby Football Club

Today, I got this gem of USA rugby history from one of my old clubs, MIT RFC, courtesy of rugby alum, Art Morales.   Its an article, written about 15 years ago, which recently got re-discovered, and I thought be great to share.  Enjoy!
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A Brief History of The M.I.T. Rugby Football Club

Rugby football was being played at M.I.T. as early as 1882 according to school records. It became increasingly popular during the early 1900's when gridiron football was temporarily banned at the school.  The club ceased to exist during the Second World War only to be resurrected in 1949, making it the oldest club in the New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU) and one of the oldest in the United States. In fact, M.I.T. RFC was the moving force in the establishment of NERFU itself. With the leadership of Prof. Joe Walsh and Dr. Bob Lawrence (M.I.T. Ph.D. '57), NERFU has become one of the strongest sub-unions in the United States.

Several clubs which are now regional or national powers are children or grandchildren of the M.I.T. RFC By the late 1950's, rugby at M.I.T. had become so popular and had retained so many alumni that the decision was made to restrict M.I.T. RFC membership to current M.I.T. students. Because of this action, a number of M.I.T. alumni started the Boston RFC in 1960, the first club team established in New England. Boston RFC in turn, became perennial NERFU champions and one of the premier teams in the country.

An M.I.T. RFC alumnus of the class of 1966, known throughout USA Rugby solely as The Troll (due to his ability and inclination to live at the bottom of scrums) has been a leader in the development of rugby in the Pacific North-West coast with the formation of the Portland (Ore.) Jesters and their rivals, the Portland Pigs.

With the help and support of the men's club, the M.I.T. Women's RFC was formed in 1976. The team included several players from the nearby Wellesley College. The Wellesley College players split off in 1988 to form their own club which was coached by M.I.T. RFC men's players until recently. According to some calculations, the M.I.T. RFC has helped develop over one thousand players since its reincarnation in 1949.

During the mid-1950's, M.I.T. RFC was considered to be the unofficial national champion; the club's spring tour of the Eastern seaboard was the yardstick by which the development of American Rugby was measured.  Since then, the club has toured many foreign lands, the first being Bermuda in 1951. As one alumnus wrote,

"We went to Bermuda as a team for the spring vacation rugby festival in 1951 and it was a ball. Wealthy families had taken their daughters to Bermuda for Easter vacation but not their sons, and the girls complained bitterly. The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce hit on the terrific idea of having a series of rugby matches during that week, thereby providing something to watch and men for the cocktail parties the young ladies loved to have. I believe they are providing us a place to stay and free breakfast and it was up to us to piece together lunch and dinner at the social events" [ed. note, Albert D. Wheelon, the writer, was a senior vice-president at Lockheed Missile and Space Company in 1992]

Our biannual touring tradition was reestablished with the 1984 tour of England. That tour was followed with tours of England and Wales (In 1986), France (1988), Japan (1990) and Scotland (1992). After skipping 1994 as a rebuilding year, we prepare ourselves to revisit England and Wales for our "Ten Year Reunion". To complement our touring ways, the club yearly hosts foreign tours. In the last couple of years, we have hosted Hatfield Polytechnic (England), University of Western Ontario (Canada) and Glasgow University (Scotland).

The club has won almost every piece of silverware available on the East Coast, including the college division of the country's largest sevens tournament (Rockaway, 1989). The M.I.T. RFC is the only college side ever to win the NERFU Championship (1974). M.I.T. RFC was the first winner of the prestigious New York Sevens Tournament in 1958 (The M.I.T. Women's RFC won their bracket in 1979). M.I.T. won the Tech School Tournament the three years it was run (1984-1986). In the Spring of 1993, M.I.T. came out with big wins against Columbia and the Uniformed Services Medical School to win the E.R.U. Graduate School Championships. Most recently, the M.I.T. RFC Summer Seven's Team won the boot division at the Beacon Hill's Sevens Tournament in 1995.

As a leader in American rugby, M.I.T. RFC understands the importance of the social aspects of the game (particularly when hosting or traveling on tour). Even in the years when the club's record on the pitch slips, the pride is maintained with a social tradition that asserts; "If we lose the match, make damn sure that we win the party!". Usually known as one of the most versed singing teams in the area, the club has received national press for their sound rugby traditions. As an article in Rugby Magazine commented:

"Due to many academic commitments and other obligations, M.I.T. showed up at 4 a.m. and slept on the pitch. They started slowly, but showed their true rugby spirit, finishing strong... Despite losing a close match to P.C.O.M. (Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine), they proceeded to show their hosts their true partying technique."

M.I.T. RFC has always eagerly supported campus activities which introduce new players to the game of rugby. Presently, the team fields two fifteen-man sides, and sponsors a Physical Education class and a biannual intramural sevens tournament. By offering everyone interested a chance to play the greatest game in the world, the M.I.T. RFC has continued to replenish its strong base of enthusiastic players.

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