How it all began …

 

 

The Charlotte Rugby Football Club traces its origin back to the year 1971 when Don Bumgardner, Bob Cordle, Bill Carlisle, Bill Brown and Mary Olive Johnson met to form a city rugby club in Charlotte, NC. The emergence of city rugby clubs was common in the late 1960's through the early 1970's due to the growth of the sport, and the desire of former college players and foreign residents to continue playing. The first actual season of play was in the fall of 1971, with matches against college clubs including UNC, Davidson, and South Carolina as well as against city clubs within reasonable driving distance, including Greensboro, Norfolk, Richmond and Atlanta. The desire to compete was exemplified by the players' willingness to travel for competition.

 
 
 On Oct 24th 2016 we are saddened to hear about the loss of a great man and one of the toughest players to ever put on a Charlotte Rugby jersey. Rich Brendel will be missed and our thoughts are with his family in this difficult time. Rich Brendel 1955-2016

On Oct 24th 2016 we are saddened to hear about the loss of a great man and one of the toughest players to ever put on a Charlotte Rugby jersey. Rich Brendel will be missed and our thoughts are with his family in this difficult time. Rich Brendel 1955-2016

 

1970's -
Growth, Rise, and Dominance

The club’s first coach was Don Bumgardner, who served as player-coach until 1980. Several players joined the club via local recruiting efforts, providing a mix of ex-college players, local 18 year olds, and foreign players with rugby experience, providing a fine mix of talent. Bob Cordle served as the first club President. The club experienced steady growth and fielded three sides in 1974. At this time, several players decided to leave the club and form the Charlotte Gargoyles RFC. It was at this time that the Charlotte Rugby Football Club adopted the Olde Originals name to distinguish themselves from the newly formed Gargoyles. The Olde Originals played several very spirited matches against the Gargoyles during the mid to late 70’s, never losing to the cross-town rivals. The Rhineland Haus, a Charlotte area landmark at the time, was established as the club’s watering hole for post-practice and post-match socials. In 1974, the club captured its first tournament championship by winning the University of South Carolina Invitational that fall. A formal club constitution was drafted by Rick Harris and adopted by the club. The highlight of 1974 was when a fine British player, Andy Turton, moved to Charlotte from the UK and immediately assumed the role of club captain, which he held until 1982. Charlotte also began to compete at a higher level in prominent tournaments such as the Commonwealth Cup (Charlottesville, VA), the Hilton Head Cup, and the Porter Cup (Richmond, VA).

     The club’s level of play continued to improve with several players earning selection on the first North Carolina Select Side: Mike Bumgardner, Don Bumgardner, Eddie Stoudemayer, Raley Miller and Rick Harris were selected in 1975, 1976 and 1977. Home matches were played at local area high schools, including Old Harding High (now Irwin Avenue School), South Meck, and beginning in 1976, the Old Berry High School Grounds, where the club played until 1991. Growth continued through the 70’s, and by 1979 the club was fielding 3 sides again, while the old cross-town rivals the Gargoyles folded. Notable players from the Gargoyles rejoined the Olde Originals, including Virgil Ehler, Jim Hewins, Chuck Haley, Jay Henderson, Joe Charles, Mike Vead, and Mike Alley among others. Club leadership included Robert Yanetti and Ken Peterson as President, and Jimmy Taylor as Treasurer.

     The Olde Originals became the premier team in North Carolina, winning the State Union Championship at the East Carolina University Tournament. The club earned the right to represent the Union in the Eastern Group III Playoffs, and hosted the matches at the Old Berry Grounds from 1979 to 1984. The club continued to have a strong presence at area tournaments, including at Lynchburg, VA, Memphis, TN and Wake Forest University. Ten players were selected for the 1979 North Carolina Select Side, and four of those were selected for the Eastern Rugby Union South select side: Tom Dever, Sam Stephens, Jow Charles, and Bob Hileman. 

 
 

 
 

1980's -
New Milestones

 In 1980, the club started its reign as State Champ, which continued through 1989. In May of 1980, Charlotte made it to the semi-final match of the Memphis Jack Daniels Tournament facing High Wycombe, only to lose on a last second penalty kick. The club returned to Memphis in 1981 with two sides, winning the 'B' division and coming in second in the 'A' division to Memphis. Also in 1981, six Olde Originals were named on the ERU South Select Side, Mike Lee, Bob Hileman, Raley Miller, Joe Charles, Galen Luse, and Tom Dever. Mike Lee went on to be named to the Eastern US Select Side, the first Charlotte player to earn the honor. 1982 saw the changing of the guard, with Andy Turton passing the baton of the captaincy to longtime standout flanker Eddie Stoudemayer. Club leadership in the early 80's included Tom Dever, President 1980-81, Bobby Broome, Treasurer 1980-81, and Andy Turton, who took over as President in 1982 after transitioning the captaincy. In the early 80's, Charlotte also began to establish itself in the Summer 7's, winning the Chapel Hill Charity Sevens three consecutive years.

     The Charlotte RFC Social Committee was formed during this period, raising revenue for the club, and providing food and drink at home matches. The club also served as waitstaff at the annual senior citizens East Dinner at the Rheinland Haus, and earned funds through raffles, attic sales and car washes in addition to member dues and donations.

     As the club became recognized for its high level of play, several touring sides made tour stops in Charlotte, including the Old Brockleans (London), Bristol University, Bristol RFC, New Brunswick RFC, Britol Harlequins, Stroud (England), and the Chosen Hills Public School Old Boys (England). The club also played exhibition matches at semi-pro football games, at pro soccer matches and even once at a state correctional institution (yes, we played at a prison!).

     Although the Olde Originals hosted and played in the Eastern Rugby Group III playoffs in 1981, 1982 and 1983, the boys could never topple arch rivals Norfolk, who would go on to the Eastern Final Four in each of those years. In the fall of 1983, Charlotte defeated Norfolk in Virginia, and the club posted a perfect 10-0 record. In the spring, Charlotte finally triumphed over Norfolk in the playoffs and earned a berth to the Final Four in Philadelphia. Charlotte lost 16-12 to Philly Blackthorne, who went on to the National Finals. In 1984, Rick Avate relocated to Charlotte and immediately made an impact on the team. In addition to being named to the ERU South Select Side along with Dave Dickson, Mike Lee, and Steve Arnsdorff, Rick and Raley Miller both played in the first ever US Territorial Sevens Championship. In the summer of 1984, Charlotte 7's reached the finals of the Cape Fear Sevens, losing to Bristol RFC whose side included four international level players. The club won the Hibernian 7's in Philadelphia and toured the Bahamas in the fall.

     The year 1984 also saw the establishment of a Hall of Fame, with initial inductees Don Bumgardner, Bob Cordle, and Rick Harris. Tom Dever served as President in 1984 and 1985. A yearbook was established in 1984 as well. The fall of 1985 included a tour of the UK, with over 30 players and guests travelling. The club visited Clifton, Stroud, High Wycombe, and Harringey in England, and Breacon in Wales, earning victories against the Harringey and Breacon sides. After the tour, Simon Roe succeeded Dever as President, Ken Ewing became treasurer, and the club incorporated (although official records establish the incorporation in 1989). At this time, social events moved from the Rheinland Hous to Mifflins and the Kenilworth Café.

     By the mid 1980's, many of the prominent players from earlier in the decade had retired or moved on, and the complexion of the team changed. However, the state title remained in Charlotte as new blood emerged, including Theo Wright, Kevin Robke and John Yaniero. A new club milestone was met in 1986 when Dave Dickson was named to the USA Eagles National team. Dave earned caps against Japan and was on the first ever US World Cup squad that competed in 1987 in Australia. Dave suffered a broken arm against Australia in the World Cup.

     Other key players making an impact for the club were Bill Jones, Paul Kenney, and Mark Chepinek. Bill made the ERU South Select side in 1987. Tony Skillbeck, who had assisted Mike Lee with coaching, became the head coach in the fall of 1986. Tony, a native of Brisbane, Australia, came to Charlotte after living in Colorado, where he was an official with the ERFU as well as a top level referee. Club social events moved to the Elizabeth Pub in downtown Charlotte, and would remain the gathering spot for after practice and match socializing until the opening of the clubhouse in 1994.

     The club continued to compete in top tournaments in the region, including the Peachtree in Atlanta and the Cherry Blossom in Washington DC. The club toured Nigril, Jamaica in the fall of 1987. In that year, Wade Otey succeeded Simon Roe as President, and top level players continued to join the club including Gordon Reid and Tony Hubbard. Gordon is a London native, and Tony was selected to the Eastern U-25 Select side in 1989. In addition, 1989 marked the first year since 1979 that the club did not win the North Carolina State Championship, losing to Raleigh in the title match.

     In the summer of 1989, the land now known as the Skillbeck Athletic Grounds was acquired. The heavily wooded lot, just under six acres, was cleared by club members, who also raised money to have the lot bulldozed & graded, seeded and readied for competition. The regulation size pitch, complete with 60 foot goal posts and irrigation system was ready for opening day, March 14, 1991 versus Roanoke

 
 

 
 

1990's
New Clubhouse, Old Traditions

Under the leadership of Mike Lee, who served as President in 1989 and 1990, the club lost (in ’89) and then regained the North Carolina State Championship in 1990. John Morgan and Phil Langdon were standouts, as were new players George Miller, Steve Ezell, and Tom Wilkinson. The 7’s program continued to do well, wining the Palmetto Tournament and the Raleigh Sevens.

     Plans for the inevitable clubhouse to be built on the Skillbeck Athletic Grounds were drawn and money was raised for construction. Pat George served one term as President, followed by Robert MacLeod.

     In 1991, the club had a tremendous fall, climaxing with a victory over Atlanta Renegades in the Group III Playoffs in Columbia SC. The victory earned the Olde Originals a trip to Baton Rouge, LA – the club’s second trip to the Eastern Final Four, where the club eventually lost to Life College in the finals. John Yaniero captained the team in this banner year.  

     The club again won the state tournament in 1992, but fell to Norfolk in the Group III Playoffs, this time hosted on the Skillbeck Athletic Grounds. New players continued to join the club and make an impact on the A side, including Eric Lindley, Mike Kirk, Chris Rorabaugh, Wayne Bradley, and Pat Mincer.

     Construction of the clubhouse began in July 1992, when the hole for the foundation was dug. Except for a few technical aspects, the entire project was performed by the members of the club, under the leadership of then President Joe Nelis. By late 1992 the roof was up, and by 1993 framing was complete and the clubhouse was enclosed. When finished in February of 1994, the 5,800 square foot clubhouse included home and visitor locker rooms with showers, a trainer’s room, and the clubroom and bar (now named the Turton Taproom in honor of the late Andy Turton), as well as a 3 bed, 2 bath apartment for players. With the club focused on completing construction, 1993 was a rebuilding year, with a 9-3 spring season followed by a tough 3-6 fall. The club still hosted the Group III Playoffs in November, and lost to Hilton Head in the final.

     The 7’s tradition continued, winning numerous tournaments in the early 90’s. Charlotte competed in the Eastern Finals in 1991 and 1992, and just missed qualifying for the National Finals in 1992. In June of 1993, the club sent a team to the USA Sevens in Las Vegas, where they reached the semi-finals of the 64 team tournament.

     In January of 1994, Mike Lee was again head coach, with Eric Lindley the team captain. Robert MacLeod was club President, Joe Nelis Vice President, and Ken Ewing as Treasurer, a post held since 1986. George Miller, a 7’ standout, participated with the Eastern Sevens Select, the fourth Olde Original to do so, as well as two National 7’s events. George also participated in a made for cable TV All-star national tournament, filmed in 1993 and broadcast in the spring of 1994.

In the mid-1990's, USA Rugby reorganized with the creation of the Territorial Area Union's (TAU's), which are charged with governing rugby in a specific region of the country. Within these TAU's, there are also Local Area Unions (LAU's), which are responsible for governing a specific region within their respective TAU's. The LAU's generally pre-date the TAU's and carry on local history and traditions, while the TAU's administer leagues, tournaments and championship events. The Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union (MARFU) was organized in August 1994, and USA Rugby South was formed in April 1996.

Currently there are 7 TAU's and 38 LAU's nationwide, including four independent LAU's (Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho and Montana). As a member of the North Carolina Rugby Union at the time of reorganization, Charlotte became a member of and competed in USA Rugby South.

 

 
 

 
 

2000's
A New Century

After a number of years of USA Rugby South championships in Division 2, Charlotte moved into Division 1 in 2001. The winning continued, with the club reaching the national playoffs in 2001, 2002 and 2003. In 2001, The club reached the national sweet 16, only to fall to San Mateo. In 2002 and 2003, the club reached the national elite 8, only to fall in close matches, short of the National Championship goal. 

In a quest to increase the level of competition the club faced in the regular season, a decision was made after the 2003 season to move from the North Carolina Rugby Union to the Virginia Rugby Union to compete in the Mid-Atlantic (MARFU) league. The decision was well rewarded, with the club reaching the National Semifinals in San Diego, California in the 2005 season. Charlotte was a heavy underdog, but put up a huge fight and almost came away with an upset victory over Back Bay, only to fall 17-25. The club claimed 4th place after falling to Worcester in the consolation final. 

After the strong run in 2005, the club was invited to join the Rugby Super League for the 2006 season. Charlotte competed in the Rugby Super League from 2006 to 2010, reaching the playoffs in 2008.