Carolina's Best Rugby Players
Who were the best players in Carolina Rugby history? To my mind, and I have seen or played with the club in every one of its almost 27 years, I would pick players from every decade reserving the stars of the 90s to a future recollection by another who spends more time with the current teams.
My picks include:
Captain — Colin Jeffcoat for leading by example and having just the right words and Jeremy Kelly for motivating younger players and giving confidence.
Coach — Cecil Slome who really made Carolina rugby strong at the start and loved the game as only a South African could.
Hooker — George Crapps an outstanding player of the early 70s was dominant at the position as was Keith Rusmisell in the late 60s.
Prop — Hamish Stevenson was brilliant for a season and a half and then found a happier place on the back row; Roger Shonosky was intimidating and one of the fastest props ever; Wally Close was even faster and was probably the person with the greatest potential at that position; however, the player who carried the team more often than not was Howard Watson, a Chapel Hill native who didnít make it to UNC as a student. Howard was big, fast and quietly destructive to other front rows.
Lock — Doug Sharer was a dominant player in the 60s and 70s. Andy Salisbury came from Michigan and Virginia and made the NCRU side while playing out of law school — he still suits up for the Charlotte Old Originals on occasion. John Strein was a skillful and intimidating player in the late 70s and Tom Dorsett held the scrum together on two successful tours and to Wake Tournament championships.
Flanker — Steve Nash worked himself hard to become an ERU flanker, playing, ironically, for a team coached by Clarence Culpepper. Rick Field was talent, verve, recklessness, and humor on and off the field. Damon Anagnos was quiet efficiency and strength; Ken Crockett was industriousness personified. JB Buxton starred in the early 1990s, playing select side rugby for the State and returning for the alumni matches with regularity.
Number 8 — Tom Godfrey didnít play half enough for UNC but when he did he was magic, his place in the junior England side was well deserved. Mike Sheehan was not the vision of a number eight but he was always around the ball and always found possession despite playing in a chronically outweighed scrum he was like Jeffcoat, inspiring at 180 pounds at his biggest. John Love was another who should have played more, he led the team in Bermuda and would have made a great one if he persisted with the game. Nick Temperley was the No. 8 for the 92/93 school year, he was a tall fellow from Norwich England. He was instrumental in our breakthrough win over ECU in the state championship in 1992 and was named to the North Carolina collegiate team. He is currently playing open side flanker for the Bristol RFC, one of the top English clubs in the Premier Division.
The back line for Carolina has always given the side its dominant character. Throughout the 70s and 80s the side would lose most of the sets and lineouts and still win by 20 points, and it did it because of speed and smarts. No team in any year that I recollect, had a smarter backline that UNC.
Scrum half — The very first team at Carolina featured Peter Parker who was an exceptionally quick halfback who humbled the proud UVa team at Sweetbriar in the spring of 1967. George Wirth was a fixture through the rest of the 60s and earned a reputation as tough, belying his eventual calling as a pastor. Joe Patterson was the steady backup until he joined the first side and set Ben Porter, Tom Parks, John Bender and Bobby Vaughn loose for many of their scores in the days when Carolina beat Charlotte by an average of 50 points. Richard Hoile could move well at the position and is like the modern scrum half, a player with size as well as speed and a great pass. Paddy Plewman had the step and could play outside as well. The classic scrum half for Carolina was Erich Thomas who played through the 70s; small and not so fast in the open, he always had the ball to give, however and he was impossible to get around.
Fly half — Luis Bush was heads and shoulders above all he played with or against, solid, extremely quick, fast on the run and with a pin-point foot, the native of Argentina and All-American soccer player is, to me, the symbol of Carolina rugby in style and results. Bush was followed by John Arzonico who had many of Luisí characteristics but lacked the kicking ability. John went on the play for the ERU and still kits out for the Used to Bees in the 1990s. Donald Munro eclipsed Arzonico at Fly-Half and led the team to the Bahamas and Venezuela and was the park for the side that should have humbled the visiting Bristol team which fielded two English and one Scottish international. Ben Porter in the early 70s used speed and exceptional tackling ability to lead teams of that era to two undefeated seasons.
Center — Tom Parks was magic — always seemingly off balance and awkward — looking in his passes, he proved that an American could adapt his personal style to the game and be effective. He always drew slight praise from selectors until he was put with the second side and based on his several tries and passes they would beat the firsts. Bob Vaughn had the skills, the speed and the confidence to be a world class player and he went on to play for the US against and in South Africa, France and Wales; sheer open speed and crushing tackles were his trademark. Andy Galyon was one of the players in the first side who showed Bush and Davies that Americans could run and score in rugby, he was dominant as was Doug David who came a year later. Robert Mocatta had a swerve and could tackle, qualities that earned him a place in the ERU side and he was the quiet heart of the great teams of the early 80s. Tom Silk in the late 80s made his mark at almost every position but his play at center was most effective.
Wing — Johnathan Bender was a great runner and knew why a wing was where he was. He found the ball at any place on the field and scored relentlessly in an era when Carolina was beating Charlotte by scores in the 50s. Mike Lucarelli in the late 70s was also made for the position.
Fullback — Nic Addison was captain and President of the club and one of the most prolific scorers with his boot and on the run. He worked magically with Mocatta and Parks in a Wake Forest tournament that saw UNC score an average of 6 tries a match.
Iím sure there are some who should be on the list but the Club hasnít been good at keeping records and the collection of materials we had vanished from the walls of Molly Maguires over the years. If you have materials that could help us write this history more accurately, let me know.
There are special people at special positions not always on the field who deserve mention. Dave Kitzmiller was an effective hooker and flanker despite having learnt the game at age 36. He helped the club immensely and brought UNC character and notoriety. By sponsoring four consecutive Charity sevens tournaments and four teams to play in the Charity Sevens in Bristol, he made Rugby in Chapel Hill a well-known thing to many.
Warren Briggs played hard and well though never at select side levels, what he did was welcome new players and give them the enthusiasm they needed to persist through the confusion and abuse of the first practices. He made friends with the Moreheads in a way that made them see that Americans playing rugby wasnít such an aberration after all. His death along with Joe Hawkins, a fine young center, in 1982, was a real blow to the club.
Donald Munro, in the 1980s and returning in the 1990s, revived the "song-and-spirit" leadership role pioneered by Fred Thomas. Thomas, who commandeered a piano, got the scrum to put it into the trunk of a DeSoto, and managed to play it while being driven up and down Franklin Street, left a legacy of truly witty songs and lyrics, not the scatological moaning one often hears at post-match festivities. Munro pioneered the Latin branch of the rugby songbook with such great hits as "Quando Triste Se?" and the memorable "Polar-Oh" sung for the Venzuelan Gardia who followed the rhythm with their machine guns, tapping them against the metal poles that held up the tapas bar roof.
There have been many magic moments that UNC Rugby made — bar diving at Molly Maguires; nine men in a Cadillac playing and winning in Norfolk, the Polar Open golf tournaments complete with electric carts; the great furniture shift in Freeport — the behavior was sometimes just this side of juvenile but there was almost always something creative. The mixed-pairs three-legged pub crawl around Franklin Street drew quite a crowd and the police actually helped the contestants out of the gutter and back to Heís Not Here. Itís sometimes hard in later life to tell someone that you played rugby for the better half of your years and not have them wonder at your maturity and sanity, but if the world knew rugby from the Carolina experience, they would know that it was a true sport, true competition, and something to be proud of.
Tom is currently a professor in UNC's Department of Public Health. He can be contacted at email@example.com.