The origin of the 1st “Unofficial” USAFA Rugby Club….or at least my version of it. Please bear in mind that these tales are being told about events that happened almost 50 years ago by someone who is at least that much older now.
Our “club” played three international opponents in 1964, and came away with a record of 2 wins and 1 loss. It all started when we were going to be visited by a military school from either England or Canada sometime in the spring semester of 1964 .. my third class year. One of the visiting professors in the Poly Sci Dept. (RAF Wing Commander Jim Walsh, a former British army paratrooper) got the task of putting together a USAFA rugby team for the amusement of the visiting cadets and sent out a message of some sort asking for volunteers. At that time, rugby was an intramural sport, and since we were going to be able to hit foreigners at will, enough zoomies responded to field a team. I don’t remember it being a large number because I don’t remember a lot of substitution during the game. I was the scrum half. I remember the coach telling me how to yell,”ball coming in, ball coming in…now”!! It seemed a strange way to alert the opponents of what we were going to do. I remember no other details of the game other than we totally surprised the visitors and won the game quite handily.
I can’t remember playing anyone else until the overseas field trip when we traveled to Hawaii, the Phillipines, Australia, and New Zealand. We stayed with the Australian Air Force Academy cadets (somewhere west of Melbourne) for several days and they insisted on playing a game of rugby. This time we only had our little group to choose from, but since they told us that we could drink beer at the half, we had no problem getting a team together. Once again, I don’t remember all who were on the team, (I believe some varsity football players were in our group) but we ended up winning by a narrow score. This so infuriated the aussies that they insisted we now play a game of American football with them. We resisted as we told them one needed protective equipment to play our game, but they insisted by calling us “sissies” or words to that effect (no protective equipment was used in rugby…), so we played part of a game. Imagine their surprise when they found out that blocking was legal, and more than one person usually tackled someone. Mercifully, their coach ended the contest after two of their best athletes had been injured, and we had been scoring at will. They still allowed us to drink beer with them and even took us up flying. I landed (take that! runway, and that!, and that! etc) my first airplane in Australia.
After a nice stay in Melbourne (where we stayed at the same hotel that the Beatles were staying in four floors above us, on their first world tour), we journeyed to New Zealand and visited their version of the Air Force Academy. Heady, after our recent victory, we challenged them to rugby, which they immediately accepted. Unfortunately, these were not cadets, but regular officers learning how to fly, and I remember them beating us badly. However, we still got to drink beer afterward so our spirits were not dampened long. All in all, I think we did pretty well as we were basically a “pick up” team playing foreigners in one of their national sports. I can only imagine how well the Academy must have done once this became a real club, and I think it’s now a real sport. I hope this legend adds to your records in a positive way. Jess Cogley, Class of 1966
My classmate Jess Cogley has hit the high points of our Rugby experience really well. I was the hooker on the team that played the guys from Cranwell and I think we upset them 11-3. Surprised them with a couple unusual plays like throwing to the front guy in the line-outs instead of high and to the middle. Quite a shock to them at the time, and to us!
The Asia field trip during the summer of '64 was outstanding. The rumor at the time was that rugby players had the edge when competing for slots on that trip. I think the RAAF Academy was in Canberra and the RNZAF Academy was in Christchurch. Not too much comes to mind about Australia, except the huge crowds around the hotel with the Beatles in residence, but I remember the living conditions in New Zealand were pretty austere, like little or no heat in their barracks (it was winter then). I think I roomed with a Kiwi named Chuck Connors while we were there [Lord only knows how that name sticks in my mind after all these years]. The rugby game against the NZ guys was pretty close...as I recall they made us play well into extra time to allow them to come from behind to beat us. Pretty amazing beer bust after the game.
Playing Rugby at the Zoo led to some great experiences later on for me. I played for the UCLA varsity [both 15s and 7s] in '66-'67 while I was there on our cooperative grad program, and played for the local Thetford town team while I was stationed at RAF Lakenheath from '70 to '74.
Cheers!!! Kevin McElvain USAFA '66, 5th Sqdn