Rugby Old Page

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Army Rugby Team Spring of 1962

Currently the only names listed are Class of 1962 – The Can Do Class.

Extreme upper left in soccer uniform Ric Cesped – Coach;
70 John Taylor – Founder; 6X Mike Schredl – Left Prop; 65 Dean Stanley; XX Denis Reimer – Right Prop;
62 George (Tank) Telenko – RFC Scrum Lock; 40 Bob DeVries (Left Wing); 20 Bill Scherr – Scrum Half; 44 Russ DeVries (Right Wing); 93 Dick Duncan

Army Rugby Sports complex

On May 12, 2007 the Army Rugby Complex was dedicated at a ceremony attended by the principal donors, officials from West Point and from the Association of Graduates, many Old Grads who played rugby while cadets at West Point, friends of West Point and both men and women cadets who are members of the 2007 Army Rugby teams.

The new Army Rugby Complex is a spectacular sports facility and the best of its kind in the Nation. The day was one to remember. The weather made for a perfect spring day. West Point and all that it stands for was at its very best. (1)You can view photos a Link below.

Saturday May 12 2007 was exactly 45 years since General Douglas MacArthur delivered his famous speech (2) to the Corps of Cadets on the occasion of his accepting the prestigious Thayer Award. It was also the day when the first Army Rugby team beat the then best rugby team in the nation launching what would become the most successful sport in West Point history.



The Early Years

It was gloom period 1961. Since the previous summer John Taylor ’62 was intent in bringing the game of rugby-football to West Point. He knew that once started it would spread like wildfire adding to the long tradition of leaning how to win by competing in the fields of friendly strife. He faced a tough challenge. Little support from organized sports at the Academy, no funds, no experienced players, no coach, and no fields to call home. John persisted against all odds. He got the support of Pete Dawkins, who had made fame first as an All-American Football player and later as a successful rugby player while at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. He gathered positive feedback from the Corps, Finally John received a personal letter from General Westmoreland, the Superintendent, authorizing the formation of a Class B competitive Club.

From the surveys that John conducted he learned of a classmate from Chile, Ric Cesped, who had played rugby. I first met John in March 1961. John infected me with his enthusiasm to add rugby-football to the sports practiced at West Point. Would I coach? Coaching was an art about which I knew nothing – although I had been blessed with wonderful coaches in my life. My rugby experienced was limited to playing wing forward for 6 years at the Grange School, an English Boarding School in Chile, with some success as a player. To coach in English, my second language was a daunting thought. But I could not refuse John’s request and thus I joined him in starting the Army Rugby-Football Club and in creating the first team of what would become the seed to the most successful sport in the history of West Point.

Authorized to start the Club John, raised enough funds to buy a few rugby balls, whistles, and rulebooks. In recalling those early days Bill Scherr ’62, Army Rugby’s first great scrum half recalls… (our first practices we didn’t have uniforms. During practices, half of us had to turn our USMA Sweat Shirts inside out to distinguish the two sides. One afternoon, walking back to the barracks after practice, I was written up by the OIC for being out of uniform because I was wearing my muddy sweatshirt inside out. My understanding TAC threw it out). Later, Coach Palone loaned us Army soccer equipment and much came from the B football team. We were assigned the furthest-most field on Post (Target Field located by the Hudson River) where only the NYC railroad trains would visit us, once in a while. If you got injured, your teammates would have to carry you back. John took the lead on all administrative tasks and in learning how to finds rugby teams to challenge. He also played whenever and wherever there was a need. At the time, rugby in the USA was played mainly in Ivy League schools, in the West Coast at Stanford and Cal, and by Clubs formed mostly by immigrant enthusiasts from traditional rugby countries like England, Ireland, France, Australia and South Africa. The Rugby Clubs were the best teams around and were known for having the best party traditions in American sport circles.

Those who volunteered to start the Rugby Club finally gathered at our lonely playing field. About 40 cadets from all four classes showed up on that cold April day. Their backgrounds were B squad football, 150 lb. football, soccer, and ice hockey and intramurder jocks. Not one of the prospective players knew what rugby was all about. Within minutes John and I realized that creating a respectful Army rugby team would be a bigger challenge than we ever imagined, specially doing so safely and without serious injury. Learning the basics on how to tackle (not block), how to use your feet (after all the game is called rugby-football because the feet play an important part in winning the game), how to constantly pass the ball to your team-mates (and not hang-on to the ball while trying to gain as many yards as possible), how to play without rest in 45 minutes halves, how to form loose scrums to retain control of the ball, etc would be the key to our mission… and so, we started with the basics. But the volunteers wanted to “play” the game, and so, we started playing a little at a time, with the one practice ball we had, selecting in the process an A and a B team, without regards to class standing, and without loosing focus of the need to master the basics. We all learned at the same time, not only how to play the game but how to do a better job of coaching the game and administering the emerging organization. By late April 1961 we were ready to try our new skills, against one of the best rugby clubs in the East — the Westchester NY Rugby Club (NYRC). It would be a learning experience — Army lost, but the score was very close, and our heads were held high. In the process, we gained confidence and we became a better team. Rugby had become part of our life at West Point.

In our second year, spring 1962, we again focused on the basics while learning to improve our teamwork. John had organized a full schedule of games ending the season with a match against “our teachers of an earlier year… the Westchester NYRC. We started fielding one team. We had about 40 – 50 club members by then. General Westmoreland and his wife took interest in our Club and we got more support including a medic and an ambulance in case of serious injury. Once in a while they would show up during practice and encourage us on.

We became a pretty good team, blessed with tons of enthusiasm, lots of energy and speed, fearless low tackling, a serious lack of weight and size in the forward line, and an incredible “Can Do” attitude. We needed no coaching in having a good time together or in partying in NYC when we played away. Lack of discipline in our trips was noted by the Sup. As the team departed for NYC to play Columbia it was stopped by the MPs and returned to barracks for inspection, by General Westmoreland, no less. The bus commander, Mike Schredl ’62, was requested to call him at his quarters on the team’s return to WP. In Mike’s words… “When I called him at home that Sunday evening and told him that we lost, I was expecting disciplinary action. I had visions of a 15&15 and possibly a delayed graduation. Completely opposite of the tact taken when inspecting us he expressed his sorrow over our loss and then complemented us for a good season. I am sure that he sensed the anxiety in my voice. He then commended me for seating at the front of the bus and explained that good leaders lead by example and are highly visible but, at the same time, are always aware of what the troops in the back are doing. I found General Westmoreland to be a warm, caring and compassionate man and he then told that there would be no further actions taken….”

Our second season was our first winning season. We had lost only one game by the time we again met the NYRC. It was Saturday, May 12, 1962 when we were scheduled to play the NYRC, our last game of the season. That same day General Douglas MacArthur would make his famous trip to West Point to deliver his last speech to the Corps of Cadets. (“Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory, that if you lose, the Nation will be destroyed, that the very obsession of your public service must be duty, honor, country….Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the corps, and the corps, and the corps. I bid you farewell.”) No doubt, MacArthur’s speech had a profound impact on all of us. Maybe it was listening to the author of such inspiring words. Maybe it was just what West Point is all about. On that day, the Army Rugby-Football team would play and beat the best team in the Country, giving those who would follow us the legacy that our rugby team was destined to stand not only among the best in America, but ultimately rank with the best in the world.

Success in the rugby fields requires total commitment to teamwork and rarely one player makes the difference, perhaps with one exception –the fullback position. This is the last line of defense, the one person who has … to stop the hordes at the gate…. and we were blessed by the best fullback in the Eastern Rugby League — Rizzio, who knew no fear and kept the opponents from scoring in numerous occasions. He would be selected to the All Eastern Rugby Team to play the All Canada Rugby team.

A few weeks later, the oldest of the Founding Classes would graduate. On June 6, 1962 we bid a fond adieu to some of the best friends we made while at the Academy, our Rugby-Football teammates.

Written by Ricardo E Cesped, First Army Rugby Coach, with invaluable help from John Taylor and many members of the Founder s Team
June 2003

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