UNC Rugby

History of UNCRFC

Carolina Rugby from 1966-1994

By Tom Ricketts

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Rugby was first played in Chapel Hill in the fall of 1966. An announcement appeared in the Daily Tar Heel asking interested students to meet in the Tin Can and consider forming a rugby team. The notice was placed by Luis Bush and Thayer Broili who were undergraduates and members of the Chi Psi fraternity. They had encountered Gron Davies, a graduate student in the Physical Education Department and a native of Llanelli, in a P.E. class and Davies’ mention of having played rugby revived Bush’s interest in the game and the idea of getting together a UNC rugby side was born. Davies had played senior rugby in Wales and was at one time a member of the British Track team as a hurdler. He recognized Bush because Luis had played in Wales as fly half to a budding talent at scrum half, Gareth Edwards, who was to later go on to lead Wales as captain and become one of the all-time greatest at the position. Broili had transferred to UNC from the University of Oregon and had briefly played there.

The first home match came on October 26 when the UNC team hosted NC State on Navy Field. Carolina looked sharp wearing retired football jerseys of navy blue with sky-blue shoulder bands; N.C. State had real rugby jerseys and were somewhat contemptuous of the home team’s kit. State won the match but Carolina scored two trys (then worth three points) and Bush kicked three penalty goals. The season was over since we had run out of local opposition but the seed was planted and the club established. At the time there was no way to get real rugby kit except from England and the obvious place was Lillywhite’s of Picadilly. We placed an order for 20 shirts, matching hose and shorts and four months later they arrived via ship in Wilmington, NC. The jerseys cost $6.50 each before customs duties which we had to pay in cash at the port office in Wilmington before we could get our crate of precious jerseys; the customs duties were $21.00 for the whole lot. They arrived just in time for our first official team picture taken on Fetzer field in March of 1967. John Mundy, Graham Patterson, Doug Sharer, Joe Holliday, and Cecil Slome appear in that picture in the new kit which was sky blue and white bands. Lillywhite’s had sent us the Cambridge University pattern but we had no idea that it wasn’t original to Carolina.

The schedule for the spring of 1967 was ambitious: N.C. State, Duke, Atlanta, George Washington and a new opponent in Davidson College which formed that spring. We lost to Duke but won all the other matches. Atlanta was a particularly fine win since they were an established club playing since 1960. That match was played in Charlotte and won 9-0 by Carolina on penalty kicks by Luis Bush. We began to play our matches on the new field behind Avery Dorm which was called Ehringhaus field. No lights, no grass, and no one wanted to play on it except the rugby team. We got stationery made that proudly advertised us as the "University of North Carolina RUBGY Club." We didn’t notice the error for several years.

The first meeting drew slightly more than the necessary 15 and the match that Davies had scheduled against Duke the following weekend appeared to be feasible now that enough bodies had turned up. The game was played on October 12 and the slightly better prepared Duke team won easily.

The team had acquired a coach, Cecil Slome, a professor in the School of Public Health and a native of Cape Town and a true rugby nut. Slome began to organize the group around the very talented Bush and the semblance of a real rugby team appeared. Peter Parker, the scrum half, an ex-varsity lacrosse player complemented Bush at fly half, Davies. Duke had been playing rugby since 1963. The second match was in Raleigh and was held in the NC State football stadium, Riddick field. State had started playing the spring before and again UNC lost by a big score. By the second match, however, the played center, Broili was the fullback, a freshman named Tom Ricketts was on one wing. The scrum was filling out nicely with Hal Rainey at a prop, Dave Brewster at number 8, and a sophomore named Doug Sharer at one of the lock positions.