Charlotte Rugby Club History (1970-1980)
1971 - The Founding
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.
1970’s – Growth and Rise to 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 and Continued Dominance
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.