A Brief History of Deep South Rugby

 What will follow is the story, as it has been pieced together, of the chronological beginning of the teams that arose, faded, thrived, and survived in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. If you have further information or corrections, please send them to deepsouthrugby@hotmail.com.

The first match played by a Deep South team was Southeastern Louisiana Universityagainst a Texas side. SLU was started by a Brit named John Healey(sp?) and the match took place in either the spring or fall of 1966. The Texas side was either a Houston club side or Rice University and the return match played in the same year in Hammond was the first match played by a Deep South team in the Deep South. (See article in archive of 2007-08 articles on Hammond’s 40thAnniversary Reunion.)

In 1967 several clubs sprang up in the region: Tulane, Birmingham, Redstone Arsenal (Huntsville), probably Pensacola, and there was a side at an airbase in north Mississippi.

Peter Maud’s account of the beginning of Tulane RFC: The club was founded in the Spring of1967 by a bunch of med students. Their first match was against Hammond. I think that they just played one or two games in the spring. I joined the faculty that summer and started playing and helping to coach. Andre (or was it Arnold?)DuPisani, who was with the South African Consulate in N.O., was both a player and our coach. Later I coached until leaving in 1970. The founding members were, I believe, Bill Terry, Howard Goldberg, and Mike Keys – all med
students. Other students were Jay Scully, Pete “the boot” Anderson, (both med), Nick Price(architecture), Randy Starett and Fred King (law), Pat Kelly (LSU anatomy prof)and others who joined later such as Stan Smith, Brian Travis, Mike Maffet, Ken Roy, George Stelling, Joe Chiapella, Tim O’Mara, and Pat Scow,` all of whom I believe were med. Bob Urann (who would become a lawyer in New Orleans) was alsoan enthusiastic member of the team. One, if not the first, undergraduate to playfor us was Bob Edmundson, followed by John Howe. (See John Howe’s article “Tulane’s All Time (Early Days) 15 in the Issue 1 archive).It was not until the early 70′s that the team became primarily undergrad. For the years 1968 -1969the first team won 14 (226 pts. for) and lost 4 (91 pts. against) and the second team won three and lost one. The first Mardi Gras tournament was held in the spring of 1968 and was a joint effort between Tulane and S.E. at Hammond (after that both clubs held their own tournaments). The preliminary games were played in Hammond on the Saturday and the semi finals and final at Tulane – on the field that used to be in front of married student housing. The cup for the winning team was given by the South African Consulate and presented by theconsul following the final. The 1968 Mardi Gras winner was Wisconsin with Tulane 2nd, in 1969 Tulane won and in 1970 Wisconsin took first with U. of Waterloo second. I moved away to work on my advanced degree and returned in 1972. Nobuo Hayashi was coaching the club at this time. As there were several ex-Tulane players and others from LSU and S.E. in the city, I, with help from Bob Urann,Stan Smith, and others formed the New Orleans club.

Birmingham’s first match was against Huntsville. The following is the story of Birmingham’s first match as told by Chris Krebs:

The first match played by the Birmingham club was played on Sunday, December 17, 1967 at Mountain Brook Elementary School field in Birmingham, Alabama. The teams involved were Birmingham and Redstone Arsenal(Huntsville, Alabama). The day was bitterly cold, but the action was plenty hot. The Birmingham side had
only three players who had played the game before: Tom Krebs (Virginia), Mike Rediker (Princeton) and William Major (Princeton).The Redstone club was captained by Carter Wellford who had been a teammate of Tom’s when they had played for the University of Virginia side. After graduation, Carter had found employment with a
defense firm in Huntsville where he also found a plethora of British and Scottish scientists (and also rugby players) with which to build the Redstone side. While Birmingham did not have the experienced players that characterized the Redstone club, it had more than its share of capable athletes. With the leadership of the three players mentioned earlier, the Birmingham team gained a hard fought 23-14 victory, probably largely because the Birmingham players knew little about pop-kicking, passing the ball (laterally), or kicking for position. The net of it all was that, to the surprise of the Redstone team, the Birmingham players simply ran the ball in heavy traffic rather than exercising one of the more strategic options. This worked out very well for the Birmingham team because it had  a number of talented, if inexperienced, players. Additionally, Birmingham had an edge in speed as the Krebs brothers had just recently given up running in AAU track meets where they competed largely in the sprints and what was then the 440yard dash. In fact, we had an in-the-family mile relay team which frequently competed against the college teams in regional meets. After the holidays Tommie and Wam returned to law school, and the Birmingham team (sans our experienced players) again played Redstone in early February of the next year. In that match, the Redstone team handed us a 28-0 beating which was far more literal than figurative. Redstone had learned that we did not know when to pass or kick the ball, and they had adjusted their match strategy accordingly. I think that I hurt for weeks after that match.

In 1968 the short lived New Orleans Blues formed. Robert Markel became probably the first high school rugby player in the Deep South when he played for the Blues. The Blues spring season consisted of 3 matches all against Hammond. Markel recalls that he had graduated from high school before he played with the Blues. Markel credits Tim McConnell as being the first high school rugby player in the Deep South. Tim played for New Orleans RFC in 1975

In 1969Markel went to Springhill and started the Springhill side. Their season consisted of home and away matches with Hammond, Tulane, Pensacola, and the New Orleans Blues. The team was coached by an old
Welsh scrumhalf named Mr. Marshall who would joyfully subjectively ref any Springhill fixture. Dennis Fitzgerald (whose son 40 years later played flyhalf for NORFC) played center with Markel. In 1970 Springhill played the University of Florida in UF’s first rugby match. In August of 2009 Spring Hill officially joined the Deep South Rugby Union as a Men’s Collegiate Div. III side.

The Southeast Gulf States Rugby Association(which later became the Deep South Rugby Union) had a brief beginning in 1969.Pete Maud(an expat-Brit who had played rep side for Canada and was teaching PE at
Tulane) formed an association of the teams in the area. Pete would move away in 1970 for graduate studies and the association fizzled. Pete returned to Tulane’s PE department in 1972. The Southeast Gulf States Rugby Association reformed in 1975 (again under Pete’s leadership) and connected itself to the Eastern Rugby Union because of Pete’s friendship with Ed Lee (then President of the ERU).

In 1970 LSU formed and played its first match against Tulane defeating the Green Wave 15-5. The major forces in the formation and development of a strong LSU side were Hal Rose and Rob Haswell. See LSU website
for a good and detailed history of the club. http://www.lsurugby.com/history.php

In 1972 or 1973 Loyola formed. Loyola has had an on again-off again existence and its website lists 1996 as the date the club was founded.

New Orleans RFC began in 1973 when Tulane Univ. passed and began to enforce the ruling that you had to attend the university to play on the rugby team.  NORFC  played its first game (and won) against LSU B side in Baton Rouge in the fall. Pete Maud, Bob Urann, and Stan Smith were a large part of the energy behind the forming of NORFC. The team was also composed of ex-LSU players (Mark Lawson, Barry Haney, Lawrence Williams, Whit Oliver) and some ex-Hammond players (Rick Odom, who played for SLU in the very first Deep South match) and others new to the area (Richard Evans – Clemson). The first practice field was on the soccer pitches along Marconi Dr. For more info on New Orleans Rugby Football Club history visit the NORFC website at http://neworleansrugbyclub.com/home/history .

The following paragraph on Crescent City Rugby Club was submitted by Billy Goodell who played for New Orleans in the fall of 1973, after leaving Spring Hill, and then switched to Crescent City.

Crescent City was formed in 1973 out of a mixture of Loyola (Danny Brasseaux, Kevin Kelleher, Joe Savoca, Bill Merritt) Southeastern Louisiana /Hammond(Gene Gerdes, Randy Johnson, Jackie Starks, Don Evans), and Springhill (Fred Schwartz) players and  merged with New Orleans in the mid 80’s. Crescent City and New Orleans were bitter cross town rivals. The two teams hated each other and matches often turned into brawls. New Orleans won the first two matches as they had more experience and a possession pack that dominated the game. Their backs basically sucked – no speed, no moves, no power and played “pussy ball” as it was openly called by Crescent City. The NORFC backs would kick 80-90% of the time. Their backs did not enjoy contact.  Their pack rarely worked it out - and when they did,  the backs kicked. Even though Crescent City strategy was to hit the NORFC backs as hard as they could every chance they got, it did not work. The New Orleans pack on the other hand was VERY good, big strong, and well versed in pack technique. Some of them openly engaged in questionable play, especially when there was a pile and no one could see what was going on. One player in particular, Mike Porter (prop, German professor at Tulane, and former NY Athletic Club player), was known for his dirty cheap tactics. New Orleans just crashed rucked and mauled their way up and down the field in a slow, methodical, plodding, boring, (but effective) manner. By 1974 Crescent City gained a little more experience in the pack and whipped New Orleans for the first time in Pan American Stadium in City Park.  There was so much bad blood and fights that the two teams stopped playing each other after the next game which Crescent City also won. Crescent City lost numbers and basically became inactive in 75 but came back and reformed in 76 winning the Baton Rouge sevens tournament. Crescent City went on a run winning Hammond Mardi Gras and Battleship tournaments a couple of times, and making finals of a tournament in Memphis before merging with their hated rival sometime around 1986.

In 1974 Robert Markel moved to Jackson and saw a sign put up by Frank Godwin enquiring about anyone interested in starting a rugby side. The Jackson RFC was born and in 1975 they played their first match against Lamar College from Beaumont, Texas, at the Hammond Mardi Gras Rugby Tournament.

The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) formed its first rugby side under the mentorship of Memphis Old #7 in 1974. John Buntin, Tim Joffrian, and Mark Canapa were Ole Miss students who provided leadership and motivation. For more info and pictures on OleMiss Rugby history go to:  www.olemissrugby.org/rebelrugbyghistory70s/umrugby1975.html

The University of Alabama RFC formed in Fall of  1974. According to Sean Duffy when he started playing in 1981 the old boys claimed they had never had a winning season, but had never lost a party. 1981 was the first winning season (4-3). The team had several successes in the 1980’s – SEC runner-up in 1984, 1986, &1987 and in 1988 they won the Mardi Gras and Joe Dong Tournaments, had an undefeated (8-0) spring season and were 2nd place in the Deep South Collegiate Tournament. In 2006 they were the Deep South Collegiate side champions.

In 1975 Mobile Rugby Club was formed and in 1978 changed its name to Battleship Rugby Club. In 1992 Battleship won the Div-II National Championship and in 2001 won the Div. III National Championship. For a list of championships won by Battleship RFC go to http://www.battleshiprugby.com/history.htm .

In 1975 the USA Rugby Union formed. The same year Pete Maud (one of the founders of the New Orleans RFC and an early leader in the development of Tulane) formed what was called the Southeast Gulf States Regional Authority. This association would later become the Deep South Rugby Union.

In the spring of 1977 Mississippi State University Rugby Club formed and played its first full season in the fall of that year.

Baton Rouge Rugby Club also played its first full season in the fall of ’77 and quickly became the rugby power in the region. Several New Orleans players would commute to Baton Rouge to practice and play with BR. In
1985 Baton Rouge won the USA Rugby South Regional Championship defeating Atlanta Old White RFC. In 1994 the Baton Rouge RFC won the ERU Div. 2 championship and went on to take 3rd in the national championships.  That team was made up of equal players from B.R., Lafayette, and Hammond.  They referred to themselves as the “Tri-cities Finest”. (1994 information contributed by Dirk Thomas, who played on the championship team.)

In 1978 The New Orleans Women’s ‘Halfmoons’ Rugby Club formed and hosted its first Mardi Gras “Throw Me Something Mister” Women’s Rugby Tournament in 1980.

In January, 1979, Rankin Tippins formed the Choctawhatchee Bay RFC, named after a local body of water, in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.  The club was later renamed the Okaloosa RFC. (Rankin began playing rugby at Tulane University in 1972 and played there through his undergraduate graduation in 1974.) Half the Choctawhatchee Bay RFC members were military from the local Army Ranger training camp and the two Air Force bases, and the other half of the club were non-military residents. Some members had previous rugby experience, but about half
had never played rugby before. The Club established the Boggy Bayou Rugby Tournament and the Summer Sevens Rugby Tournament, the latter of these tournaments was still being held at the writing of this history
in 2008.  Okaloosa RFC represented the Deep South Union in Division II in 1989, but lost in the first round of playoffs. The Club made one international tour to the Bahamas (year?) and its senior players
participated in the 2004 Golden Oldies Rugby Festival in San Diego. Several players have been recognized and played on military select sides in addition to players playing with the Deep South Select sides. The military members of the club have represented the club in military rugby club competitions. The club will hold its 30th anniversary alumni match in September of 2009.  (Information contributed by Rankin Tippins.)

1984 the Montgomery Yellowhammers RFC formed.

1996 the Smiley Faced Warriors, a New Orleans high school side made up of kids from various schools and coached by Robert Markel, played its first match against Catholic High inBaton Rouge. Both teams would fold
and Robert would go on to coach the national power Jesuit High School Blue Jays rugby side.

In 1997 Episcopal School of Acadiana under Brian McIntyre and a side at the high school on Pecan Island formed and played a 3 game series against each other.

Also, in 1997, the University of West Florida Rugby Club was founded in 1997 by Jay Chandler, Brendan Powers, and others including Coach Frank Martin.  UWFRFC won its first game vs. the (visiting, spring break club) University of Michigan and went 7-2 that season (losing twice to Tulane).  For its first game, UWF team was heavily subsidized by Pensacola and Okaloosa. Thanks to Jay “Chiller” Chandler (Okaloosa RFC 1990-1997, UWFRFC 1997/98, St Pete Pelicans 2000-2007, and founder of Pinellas Athletic Club U-19 Rugby in 2008) for UWF info and other contributions.

Auburn’s Women Rugby team was established in 1999. Katie Thompson, who grew up watching rugby in England, came up with the idea of a rugby team for the Auburn ladies. The team’s first practice was February 8, 1999. About 8 girls attended the first practice.

The spring of 2001 high school rugby in New Orleans would blossom. The Jesuit Blue Jays (coached by Robert Markel),  Brother Martin Crusaders (coached by Gary Giepert), and Archbishop Shaw (coached by Tim Falcon)
would start. In 2004 Brother Martin won the Southern Regionals in Columbus, Georgia, and went 1-2 at the High School Nationals in Ft. Worth, Texas. In 2007 Jesuit would compete in the high school national championships in Utah, and in 2008 both Jesuit and Rummel would capture USA South Regional titles in different divisions and go on to compete for national titles in the high school championships held in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately both sides would finish 8th in their respective divisions. (See article on 2008 National High School Tournament in archive of Issue 1 for more information.)

In 2005 Rummel (coached by Trip McCormick) and DeLaSalle (coached by Sam Farnet) would form. DeLaSalle would fold by 2006 as a result of 2 non-rugby related occurrences  - Katrina and the unfortunate death of a player during practice due to a heart condition.  (Thanks to Gary Giepert and Robert Markel for information on youth and high school rugby.)

The Baton Rouge Women’s Rugby Club (The Barbies) formed in December, 2005. In March of 2009 they officially joined the Deep South Union as a Women’s Senior Div. II side.

In May of 2006 fifth and sixth graders at the International School of Louisiana, displaced by Katrina into trailers close to the airport runways in Kenner, played the first elementary school full contact match. The co-ed team broke into the red and blue sides and played a 7s match against themselves. The school continued the sport as a touch after-school activity when the school moved back into New Orleans in the fall of 2006.

In 2008 Niceville High School played its first match under the guidance of Ed Frisbee. (See article by Jared Macarin in archive of Issue 1 for more information on Niceville’s first match.)

Also, Marion Military started a brand new program in 2008.   They played their first games in the spring and a few games in the fall.  Spring 2009 was their first competitive season.

Also, ULL Women and Centenary were attempting to start women’s teams in 2008, but were both stuck at 8-12 players and had not yet fully formed.  Jennie Alwell placed contact info for these teams on the official Deep South Rugby Union website (www.deepsouthrugbyunion.com) to try to drum up support.

In the fall of 2009 the University of Alabama and Auburn Women’s Rugby Club officially joined the Deep South Union. They joined as a Div. II Women’s Collegiate sides and were the only 2 collegiate women’s rugby sides in Alabama. On October 23, 2009,  the 2 sides were scheduled to play their first match against each other in Tuscaloosa. This would be the first match between 2 Alabama collegiate women’s rugby teams  played anywhere. It had to be canceled. They did play against one another at the Battleship tournament in November , 2009, with Auburn winning 29 to 10.  They both played their first home games the weekend of Feb. 20th, 2010.  Auburn beat MTSU 34 to 0, and Alabama lost to Lee. They will meet for their first matrix game against one another March 6, 2010, in Auburn. (Thanks to Michelle Yarbrough  for this info.)

In  the fall of 2009 the Tallahassee Men’s Rugby Club began to play matches in the Deep South Union.

In the fall of 2010, University of South Alabama joined the Deep South Union with both men and women’s sides.

2010-2011 Season: NORFC won the national Div. 2 Championship.

2011-2012 Season: 3 high school teams played their first games and competed in the Louisiana/ Deep South Union youth championship: South Mississippi (U-19 youth club based on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, started initially through the energies of Lori Sutherland, mother of a child who had played in Utah), Lake Area (a New Orleans public charter high school, started through student intiatives and coached by Chance Doyle and Adam Ducoing), and Audubon (a New Orleans based U-19 youth club initiated and coached by Sam Farnet).

2012 New Orleans RFC won the National Div. 3 championship.

2012-2013 Season – Rummell high school rugby side dissolved. Remaining players joined the Audubon club side.

We have tried to make contact with a few men’s and women’s teams (Auburn, La Tech, Marion Military, USM, ULL, Centenary) for info, but have had no reply. If you know the story of
these teams or info on the history of any Deep South rugby side, please send it to deepsouthrugby@hotmail.com.

 

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