The History of Columbia University Rugby Football Club

William Smith, Columbia College class of ‘57, was discharged from the US Army in August 1959. In October he began a career as a financial writer at the New York Times, where he was introduced to rugby by a coworker who played for the Westchester RFC. He excitedly told classmate John Wellington (‘57) about this wonderful sport. John began to play with this club, along with several other CU grads. John and Bill had quickly determined, however, to start a club at their alma mater. Later in 1960, John, now at the Placement Office of Columbia University, spoke about this in a placement interview with Pat Moran (‘63), a student from County Mayo, Ireland. The confluence of these conversations and events led directly to the birth of the CURFC in 1960-61. Consensus was that Smith would be in charge of recruiting. His target was Bill Campbell (‘62), who was then an undergraduate and captain-elect of the football squad that would win the Ivy League in the fall of 1961. Along with Campbell, who later became the Columbia head football coach (1975-79), came former Lion quarterback Dick Donelli (‘59) and many Lion football players. The CCRFC was recognized as an official University club in the second half of January 1961, just subsequent to its admission to the Eastern Rugby Union. On Thursday evening, January 19, 1961,a recruitment meeting was held at the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity house. Some 30 persons turned out, 22 of them from the College. Moran gave a lecture to explain the game. Wellington was elected President, Moran Captain/Treasurer (and coach), Campbell VP, and Smith Secretary. (These four officers comprise the four founders of Columbia College rugby.) Sportswriter Paul Zimmerman (‘55) had quickly followed his Columbia mates from the WRFC to join the new CCRFC, and was named Publicity Director.

First match was in 7s: CCRFC 3, Yale 0

It was midwinter, and the NY metropolitan winter league of 7-a-side rugby was under way. It was named the ERU Tournament, though primarily NYC area teams entered, and it took place each winter over a series of Saturdays at the old Squadron ‘A’ Armory at 94th Street and Madison Avenue. The CCRFC entered a team to meet Yale. (The Yale football team had gone a perfect 9-0 in the Fall, as the first undefeated Ivy team in 37 years and would prove to be the last nationally ranked Ivy team, getting as high as 14th in the AP poll. Yale’s 7s side was the ERU powerhouse, and had beaten Westchester 13-0 the week before.) The first CCRFC players chosen to ever officially take the pitch were Smith, Wellington, Moran, Campbell (CC Pres 61/62), two frosh footballers - Billy Mitchell and Steve Joyce (CC Capt’63/64), and an ex-Columbia halfback Manny Migliorisi, who worked in the CU gym handing out phys-ed equipment. They took the pitch - a dirt infield used for polo matches - outfitted in old football jerseys and socks ‘borrowed’ from the soccer team. For four of them, the first game they ever saw was the one they played in. And play they did. They hit hard and they fought harder. Migliorisi broke for 50 yards through the Yale defense, drew the last men, and passed from the tackle to create the try by Moran, as the CCRFC stunned the ERU with a 3-0 win over Yale. So it was that, on a Saturday evening, February 25, 1961, Columbia rugby made its auspicious debut.

The effect on campus was electric. Columbia athletes, grad students and alumni turned out in force for the Spring 1961 season. The beginning play of the Columbia University RFC could be characterized as anything but humble. In its first season in Spring 1961, it advanced to the finals of the ERU Division III Championship, which it then won in Spring 1962, winning seven in a row to end the season, with Moran again captain, Campbell now president and Wellington acting as coach. In the Winter of 1962-63, the CCRFC went 10-1 in the armory 7s ERU Tournament. In Spring 1963, the club went a perfect 12-0, to top off a 19 game winning streak, and won the ERU Mid-Atlantic League under Donelli as captain and president. The CCRFC then concluded the Spring of 1963 by winning an ERU 7s tournament at Villanova, with 3 shutouts in a 4-0 sweep of opponents. The introduction of the CCRFC to ERU and US rugby had been nothing less than a stunning 7s upset, followed by 3 Division finals, 2 Division Championships, and a 7s title against veteran men’s clubs, all in its inaugural three ERU seasons. Some of the great athletes who contributed to this astonishing performance included Tom O’Connor (ERU All-Star’62), Tom Haggerty, Tony Day (ERU 2nds’62), Bob Asack, Mark LaGuardia, Fran Furey (CC Capt ‘64/65 and Pres’65/66), Hank Dieselman, Buzz Congram, Jonah Raskin (CC Capt Fall’62), Bob McCool, Cas Troskie, Charlie Blackman, and Andy Lewin.

Columbia alumni split to form Old Blue RFC

But, change was in the wind. The Columbia College club at its inception was an all-University club that included undergraduates, alumni, graduate students and affiliated members. It was alternately identified, in both rugby circles and the press, as the “CU” rugby club” and the “Columbia (College)” rugby club; and, indeed, its senior Old Blue RFC incarnation, in its initial seasons, was often identified as the “Columbia Old Blues”. Even while the College club grew in size and stature, the assumption and intention of the founders and other playing alumni had always been to create a senior club, separate but affiliated with the College club. By the Spring of 1963, the club had become overcrowded with members. There was grumbling by some undergrads hungry for playing time. The more senior players were happy to continue competing and winning as the Columbia College XV that they had so recently created. At the same time, they were not indisposed to the notion that the club be henceforth represented by its undergraduate athletes, leaving the graduates to realize their plan to depart and create a senior club.

Also at the same time, informal signals from the College administration and Dean’s Office had filtered down to the club administration about the desirability of, and preference for, a rugby club composed of members who were undergraduates or who were otherwise affiliated with the University. These hints were accompanied, no doubt, with noises about justification of University support for the program. It would appear that there were no formal ultimatums per se; it was more likely a case of rhetorical speculation, thinking out loud, passed on in the washrooms and hallways of Low Rotunda and in the corridors outside of the Dean’s offices in Hamilton Hall. So it was that in Spring 1963 players like Pat Moran, Bill Campbell and Dick Donelli, who were either in grad school at Columbia or were coaching its teams, played CCRFC rugby. So too did John Wellington (he, already working in the University administration but wishing to take no chances, had immediately run out and signed up for some graduate courses). Bill Smith and Paul Zimmerman returned to the Westchester R.F.C. with several other players, and actually played against the CCRFC that season.

These same six individuals would found the fabled Old Blue RFC after the Spring 1963 season. In the Spring of 1963, on and around the University’s Morningside Heights campus in New York City, the CCRFC held a series of meetings that ultimately precipitated the creation, as previously often discussed, of a senior club to be named the Old Blue RFC as of the coming Fall 1963. It was indeed to be separate from, but affiliated with, the College club; and with the creation of the Old Blue RFC, aspiration finally became reality. Bill Campbell was, by consensus, chosen the first Old Blue captain; and Smith and Zimmerman returned along with others from WRFC when the Old Blue began play in non-league, informal fifteens competition that Fall. (The ERU held league play only in the Spring season This was, in no small part, a concession to the autumn football commitments of many key players on many clubs in the ERU. The Columbia College RFC (and now Old Blue as well) was no exception, as many key first XV players were generally unavailable for fall matches.)

Columbia alumni and Old Blue RFC: At the forefront of US men's club rugby

The Old Blue Rugby Football Club’s initial impact in official ERU league play proved to be an even more auspicious beginning than that of the Columbia College RFC from which it sprang. Campbell was otherwise preoccupied with his Columbia football coaching staff position much of the Fall of 1963. He was available, however, to play for and captain the initial OBRFC 7’s side, on November 30, 1963, to the NY Sevens title, their first championship. In the spring of 1964, he captained the Old Blue to an undefeated 10-0-1 inaugural season, and the OBRFC were ERU Champions. Even from its inaugural season, the club dominated, as the NY Times quoted it as “one of the outstanding clubs on the East Coast”. That season it tied one of Canada’s best sides, the Montreal Barbarians, and beat the Bermuda All-Stars, previously unbeaten on their US tour, before more than 2,000 spectators. The Old Blue ultimately was undefeated in the first 18 ERU matches in which it ever played. It was to successfully maintain to the present day - a half century hence - an historical dominance of Eastern USA rugby and a national stature as perennially one of the top rugby clubs in the United States. The Founders and other Old Blues representing American rugby have gone on to play against all of the best national rugby teams in the world. The OBRFC appeared in four USA Rugby Men’s XV Finals in seven USA Final Four appearances, and qualified for the men’s club D-I national playoffs every year from their inception in 1979 until 2001, during which time D-I play was the highest level of men’s rugby in America. USA Rugby subsequently ruled to exclude Super League clubs from D-I men’s club playoffs. The OBRFC was a founding member of the USA Super League in Spring 1997; was twice Super League Eastern Champion, and appeared in the first two SL Finals, and in the SL Final Four in 2002, 05 and 06. The OBRFC has won the USARFU National Men’s Club 7s Championships twice: in 1993 and 2005.

CCRFC - 1970s

Even as the CCRFC (which remains to this day a club for undergraduates - from the College, School of Engineering (SEAS) and elsewhere in the University) lost the numbers and skills of its many gifted alumni founders, it was witness to an explosive growth in the number of clubs in the ERU. This growth began in the remainder of the 1960s, and continued over the next two decades. Of special note in this interim was the CCRFC tour of Great Britain and France in 1972, a year after their spring tour to the U of Florida Gator Tournament. The CCRFC struggled through losing seasons through much of the period from 1964 through 1974, despite the efforts of players such as Joyce, Bob Mattingly (CC Pres.’64/65), Artie Silvers (CC Capt ‘66/67), Max Carey (CC Capt ‘68/69) and hard-running center/kicker Mike Fortunato (’76). Nonetheless, during this period Columbia’s rugby team proved to be a powerful and successful source of talented players who joined these men to compete for the OBRFC. The Old Blue roster remained composed of predominantly CCRFC alumni in this same period, as it assimilated young CCRFC ruggers who collectively led the OBRFC to continued dominance. Among these CCRFC alumni were such future OB Captains/Presidents as Ed Malmstrom (OB Capt Spr’73), Bob Klingensmith (OB Capt’69), Joe Cody (OB Capt’Spr’70 and OB Pres’71/72), Tom Chorba (OB Capt’70/71), Bob Donohue (OB Capt Spr’78), Richie Brown (OB Pres’78/79 and ‘79/80), Bob Yuhas (OB Capt Fall’75), Charlie Johnson (OB Capt’74/75), Jim Ferguson (OB Pres’77/78) and OBRFC A-side players Tony Helfet (CC Capt.’65/66), Al Butts, Russ Warren, Joe Tuths, Gerry Zawadzkas, Roger Dennis, Art Sprenkle, Rich Coppo, Scott Denny, Terry Smith, Steve Jenning (CC Capt’70/771 and ‘71/72), and Steve Woods. Another CCRFC alum of this period was seven-time OB President Lew Fischbein (CC Pres.’73/74).

CCRF alumni return to Alma Mater to coach

But the flow of CCRFC players to Old Blue had begun to ebb as the CCRFC approached the middle of its second decade. At the same time, fewer College athletes were joining the CCRFC than in its first decade, and coaching continued to be virtually nonexistent. This changed dramatically in the Spring of 1975. Firstly, Founder Bill Campbell had returned to Columbia in the Fall 1974 as head football coach. He encouraged his players to try rugby. Secondly, CCRFC Captain (CC Capt’74/75) Peter Beller and President (CC Pres’74/75) Jim O’Donnell actively pursued and welcomed such athletes, as well as the coaching support of CCRFC/OB back Rich Coppo (‘69). The effect was significant and immediate. Fine players like Al Lussier, Gerry Keating, Rob Nooter (CC Capt’75/76), Dwight Valentine, John Gill, and Luke Vaughn (CC Pres’75/76) were joined by future Old Blues Steve Noble, Rocky Klanac, Mike Delaney, Tom Masso, Mike Hansen, Chip Hillenbrand, John Garland, Larry Bellone (OB Pres Fall’84), Mike Neal, Chuck Donigian (CC Capt’76/77), Lou Guarneri, and Chimere Okezie. (Guarneri, while a wing for the CCRFC and tight end for Campbell, was selected to play 2nd row for Met NY vs. France in 1976. Okezie, who also played vs. France, would become a US Eagle and play club rugby in France. Donigian would go on to have an enormous influence on the success of the OBRFC for nearly a quarter century as its four-time captain, and as coach for a decade.) In March 1975 the CCRFC toured the Bahamas, gaining a tie vs. Freeport; and in April took 3rd in the Ivies, defeated Penn 19-6, lost to champion Brown 0-19, and shut out a Harvard side 10-0, by scoring 2 tries vs. a side that had not given up a try prior. The team finished the Spring ‘75 with the first CCRFC winning record in a decade, and were the Met NY Collegiate Champs. In 1976, the CCRFC again were Met NY Collegiate Champions, and again took 3rd in the Ivies, defeating Penn 20-0, losing to champion Brown 7-25, and beating Princeton (a double overtime 0-4 loser to Dartmouth) 16-6. The 1977 team won the Met NY Division III against top men’s club B-sides, and won the 1st Rockaway 7’s Tournament with Old Blues Rich Coppo and Mike Sherlock on the team. Coppo would continue to assist the club through the 70s and early 80s and nurture the Columbia-Old Blue connection; and the core of these CCRFC teams would go on to the OBRFC and, captained by Chuck Donigian, go to the inaugural USARFU Men’s Club Final Four in 1979, and in 1980 and 1981 as well.

CCRFC - 1980s

The resurgence of talent and success of the CCRFC continued through 1980. More fine CCRFC players from 1978-80 would go on to the OBRFC and US national competition through the 80s: Will Sherlock (CC Capt’78), Parker Bagley, Bob Muzikowski, Greg Finn (CC Capt ’79/80 and OB Capt’85/86), Paul Kussie and Phil Yacos (CC Pres’78/79 and ’79/80). The 1978/79 club captained by John Doran (CC Pres’80/81) took 3rd in the Ivies, went on a FL tour and beat the London School of Economics RFC at Baker Field in Spring’79, and won more than 22 games for the school year. The 1980 CCRFC team under Captain Greg Finn went undefeated in the Spring ‘80 season before falling in the Ivies to Brown to take 4th in the Ivies; placed 12th in the ERU Collegiates, and went to the finals of the Rockaway 7s. Then again the flow of college football players dried up and the connection to the OBRFC became tenuous. In 1981 the CCRFC toured Southern CA; and the club faltered until 1984 and 85, when it captured the Met NY Division II titles. Dennis Jablonski, a former US Eagle, coached these teams. Influential in that success were Pete Barbaro (CC Capt ‘84/85), and future Old Blue players Doug Garrity (CC Capt’82/83 and ’83/84; OB Capt’86/87), Dom DeCicco (OB Capt’88/89), Eldridge Gray, Kevin Cadden, Darcy Hunter, Jim Kearny, Randy Lieberman, Adam Sutner and Brian Murphy (CC Pres’82/83). The 1984 team toured England and Wales, the 1985 team visited Scotland and France and the 1986 team toured Belgium, Holland and France.

In the Fall of 1987, Brian Murphy returned to alma mater to undertake the coaching of the CCRFC, reestablishing an OBRFC-CCRFC coaching connection that would continue until 1996. Half of that decade saw Murphy coaching, two years by four-time OB captain Ed Simpson, with part time contributions from Coppo, Smith, and Donigian. Murphy built success with a team of athletes for the most part not football players. Players who were instrumental in reviving the CCRFC included Craig Blackmon (CC Capt’87/88), Eli Neusner (CC Pres ‘87/88 and ’88/89), Brian Thomson, Steve Toker, and Greg Watt (CC Capt’88/89). In Spring 1990, the foundation that this group had prepared yielded a 2nd place finish in the Ivies, its best ever. The CCRFC defeated defending Ivy champ Harvard 16-10, then Cornell 23-0, before falling to Dartmouth in the Finals. Mark Eames and Erik Johnson all made the ERU Select side, and were joined on the All Ivy team by Jamie Kane. They were joined in the resurgence by Brian Amkraut (CC Capt’89/90), Troy Berry, Paul Shaneyfelt, Peter Hatch, Brian Straughn (CC Pres’89/90), Mark Bures (CC Pres’90/91), and Mark Snowise (CC Capt’90/91). The team, which also toured New Orleans, went 8-4-2 and finished ranked 8th in the East, another best. All of these players went on to the OBRFC in the early 90s.

CCRFC - 1990s

In the summer of 1990 Columbia rugby alumni organized a Foundation Board and established a capital account with the Columbia Athletic Department. Funds also are credited to the Columbia Alumni Fund, earmarked for rugby and cannot be withdrawn without approval of the Board and for good cause. Donations are tax deductible, as when made to the University. On October 27-28, 1990 the first Homecoming weekend Friends of Columbia Rugby Alumni Match occurred. In football, Columbia beat Princeton 17-15; and the rugby Alumni beat the undergrads 22-15. On April 20-21, 1991 the College club held its 30th Anniversary with a dinner at the Columbia Faculty House and a match in which the College rugby Alums beat Harvard’s 14-6 at Baker Field. Players who kept the CCRFC competitive in the early 90s included Eric Fleming (CC Capt’91/92), Rob Perle (OB co-Capt Spr’99), Peter Hatch, Ned Kirk, Josh Levy, Dave Lennon, Mike Concannon (CC Pres’92/93), Oren Cohen (CC Pres’93/94), and Rick Rosivach (CC Pres’91/92).

The Fall 1991 proved to be historic for the club when freshman Lara Christine Coutinho (Barnard 1995) became the first woman ever to play rugby at Columbia College; and she did it playing on the men’s team. On the occasion of the 2nd CCRFC Homecoming Alumni Weekend, Lara played hooker at Van Cortlandt Park against Army B’s on October 13, 1991 in a 9-9 tie. The cadets gave her no quarter, and she played fearlessly and courageously. She was impressive. In the Spring of 1992, Lara went over to the Columbia College women’s rugby club, which had been founded in the Fall 1991, when practices were held in preparation for Spring ‘92 fixtures. But the club faltered as the 90s unfolded, as the lack of numbers and athletes interested in rugby affected performance. From 1995 through 1997 the club fell on hard times. At the extreme, the club abandoned its schedule and virtually disbanded in Fall 1995. There were few players, and fewer at practice, which lack of commitment led to no coaching - as prospective coaches walked away in frustration. The club failed to even enter the Ivies from 1995 to 1997. In the Fall of 1997, Murphy, senior Andy Johnston (CC Pres’96/97 and ’97/98) and a group largely of freshmen resurrected the club and, though Brian left NYC after the season, the club maintained its viability and reentered the Ivies in Spring’98.

What's in an acronym? CCRFC now CURFC

In the fall 1998, Marc Porter, who played U Penn/Life College rugby, became coach, assisted by John McNamara from Cal-Berkeley/Old Blues-SF rugby. Porter served as coach through the spring of 2007 to provide invaluable continuity. In 1999 the term of the club president was changed to a calendar-year basis, while the captain’ tenure remained on a school year, fall-spring basis. By Fall 1999 as juniors, Dan Wetmore (CC Capt’98-99, ‘00-01) and Ike Ibe led the CURFC to a 2nd place finish in Division II and an NRU playoff appearance. They improved upon that in the Spring 2000 with a winning record and an Ivy Tournament win over Penn 27-12, notable in that it was the first such win in nine years, led by Mike Mahoney (CC Capt’99/00), Paul Sheridan, and Rob Culpepper. The Fall 2000 was one of the best ever as CURFC went 9-0 through the Met NY Division II playoffs, which they won for the first time in 15 years, ending 10-2 overall, with a first round win in the NRU playoffs, led by seniors Rich Luthmann, Stu Dearnley, Jerome Pehuet, and Jeremy Mangion.

2000s - Columbia rugby alumni achieve university honors

The start of the new millennium brought further University distinction to Columbia rugby alumni when Founder William V Campbell was awarded the prestigious Columbia College Alexander Hamilton Medal for distinguished service and accomplishment on November 16, 2000, and former CCRFC players Dr. Russell Warren (’62) and Marty Domres (‘69) were selected to the Columbia Football Team of the Century. Dr. Warren also was the inaugural Columbia honoree at the 1st Ivy Football Association Dinner on January 25, 2001. Many CCRFC and OBRFC alumni attended the functions. With the addition of football linemen Matt Hughes and Nick Elkins, in the Spring 2001 the CURFC won the Washington, DC Collegiate Brawl on the Mall Tournament, toured the South over spring break and came in 2nd in the Savannah, GA tourney, all vs. first division sides. At the Ivies they then shut out both Cornell 11-0 and Harvard 17-0, after a tough 8-18 loss to Princeton, to finish 5th, the best in a decade, and concluded with a 10-2 Spring’01, for a 20-4 school year record. Hughes and Eddie Torres were selected to the NRU territorial team. Over 50 alumni attended the club’s 40th Reunion on April 20/21, 2001, in conjunction with the CCWRFC’s 10th and with the OBRFC-KC Blues Super League fixtures, as the CURFC defeated the CCRFC Alumni 15-8 on a last minute try. The warm reminiscences for two deceased alumni at this reunion led directly to the establishment of a non-endowment sub-account to the Friends of Columbia Rugby fund, the Al Lussier ‘75C and Phil Yacos ‘80C Memorial Fund, for the purpose of addressing the long-term needs of the club. In Fall ‘01 an undermanned team, after the loss of 11 seniors, went 5-4, yet qualified for the NRU playoffs when they finished 2nd in the Met NY D-II playoffs, where they fell in a double overtime loss in the finals.

After going 3-1 in their defense of their crown in the DC Spring 2002 Tournament, the CURFC faltered rest of the season before moving up to D-I play and having a winning Fall 2002, in which they reached the Met NY D-I playoffs. On January 22, 2003 former CCRFC center Allison Butts (’64) was the second Columbia honoree at the 2nd Ivy Football Association Dinner. In Spring 2003, the club went 3-3 before they celebrated the 40th anniversary of parent OBRFC by forming a combined side with CCRFC alumni to face an OB old boys side; and Founder Bill Campbell was elected to the Columbia University Board of Trustees. Then in the Fall 2003, led by captain Mike Goldberg, they tied for third in Met NY D-I playoffs to earn a seed in the NRU D-II playoffs. The highlights of the Spring 2004 season were a 3-game CURFC tour of England, subsidized by club alumni, the OB Rugby Foundation and the Columbia Rugby Alumni Fund, and a 8-7 win over Penn at the Ivies, the club’s first in three years. While the club struggled with numbers in the Fall of 2004, it made a seventh consecutive appearance in the Met NY playoffs; but was starved for wins through Spring 2005. But a singular highlight for Columbia rugby occurred on January 27, 2005 when CCRFC Founder Bill Campbell was named as the third Columbia honoree at the 3rd Ivy Football Association Dinner - the third Columbia rugger in a row. In the Fall 2005, he was elected Chairman of Columbia’s Board of Trustees. Relegated to D-II play, a roster of players entirely new to the game endured a Fall 2005/ Spring 2006 marked by maddeningly close losses, before winning their first Met NY match in 2 years and recording a resurgent 6-2 Fall’06.

With the addition of many former CU gridders, including Caldor Orr, Pierce Rowe, Kern Collymore, Dan Daylamani, Tim Walker, Mike Pezley (CC Capt’06/07), Dave Zoppo, Justin Masorti and Pat Ryan, 2007 proved to be a notable year for Columbia rugby. The club in the Spring went 3-3 on a tour to Trinidad-Tobago, was the hardest hitting team at the Ivies and beat Cornell twice. In the summer, Collymore (CC co-Capt’07/08), joined by Jonathan Barbee (CC Pres’06), Tony Vongdara (CC co-Capt’07/08) and Ben Cheslak, played with the vaunted, 2-time US 7s Champion OB 7s program. The Old Blue Rugby Foundation underwrote the installation of a state of the art artificial FieldTurf surface at Baker Field’s Soccer Stadium, for use by both the CURFC and it rugby elders, OBRFC. In the Fall 2007, former OB standout flanker, 7s captain and coach Sean Horan became the head coach of the CURFC, assisted by OBs Aldo Belluzzi. Reverend BJ Weber and former US Coach Ray Cornbill. Though the club had lost 12 outstanding seniors, they proceeded to go a perfect 8-0, as they defeated Met NY nemesis Vassar 46-7 to win their Met NY Collegiate bracket, and rallied to beat the USMMA 31-22 to clinch the Met NY Collegiate D-I Championship. With the B-side also 8-0, the club had concluded an unprecedented, perfect 16-0 season. A loss followed in the NRU D-I playoffs, but the B-side then won, to finish 9-0, a B-side best, as the club ended at 17-1. The CURFC was unable to replicate this unprecedented success in 2008, notable wins being one win on an ambitious spring tour of Argentina, an Ivy win over Cornell again in a 1-2 Ivies finish and a victory over the OB old boys at the OB 45th Reunion.

In Spring 2009, CURFC, with players like Phil Kemp (CC Capt’08/09 and Pres’08), Paul Wallace (CC Capt’09/10 and Pres’09), Bobby McMahon and Derek Lipscomb (CC Capt’10/11) and coached by Horan and former OB lock Hayden James, again toured Trinidad-Tobago, as the A side went 2-1 with a pair of wins over the T&T U-19s. In an historical event for the club, Columbia for the first time ever was the site (co-host with Yale) of the Spring’09 Ivy Tournament, as the CURFC hosted the final at Baker Field, where Dartmouth defeated Harvard 62-12. CURFC beat Brown to finish 1-2. In another seminal event in Ivy rugby history, the Fall 2009 marked the inaugural Ivy League Rugby Championship Series, as the eight clubs left their respective LAU collegiate divisions to compete in their own competition for seeds to the US College Nationals. In the opening season, the club finished 1-6 for seventh place.

On September 3, 2009, the National Football Foundation named its Scholar-Athlete Award, often referred to as the “Academic Heisman”, the William V. Campbell Trophy in honor of CCRFC Founder Campbell, who himself - along with six Presidents of the United States inducted since its 1958 inception - was awarded the NFF Gold Medal (2004), in recognition of significant contribution to college football and the country.

CURFC and Ivy rugby league - 2010s

The CURFC, under head coach James, went on a Paris-Milan European tour in March 2010 and got three victories, then went 4-0 to win the Four-Leaf Tournament University Division, defeating Princeton in the championship. 2010 would prove highly successful for the CURFC, with additional players including Conor Russomanno (CC Pres’10), Tom Timberlake (CC Pres’11), Kudzanayi Dvairo, Zack Bull, Nick Phillips, Peyton Bell, Tyler Halpin-Healy (CC co-Capt Fall’09), Joe Artuso and Olof Matti. The inaugural All-Ivy Barbarians, which included four Lions, Lipscomb (forwards captain), Russomanno, McMahon and Wallace, swept the NRU LAU Collegiate Cup in their first appearance as a separate collegiate division in the April NRU event. AIB reserves included Bull, Phillips and Matti. Matti joined Lipscomb and Russomanno as NRU Collegiate All Star selections. Lipscomb then brought unprecedented honor to Columbia, as he was named the CURFC’s first ever All-American (American Rugby News).

In the Fall 2010, CURFC enjoyed one their best Ivy performances ever, as they defeated Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Cornell and Penn to finish as runner-up to Dartmouth (a US Collegiate Premier Division entry) in the second Ivy League Series, which earned them home field as host of the 2010 Ivy Wildcard Playoffs and a semifinals appearance. CURFC B, at 4-2, finished in third place in Ivy B side competition. On January 27, 2011, Marty Domres (CC’69), a CCRFC flyhalf who set 31 CU football records, and played nine NFL seasons, was named the Columbia honoree at the 6th Ivy Football Association Dinner to become the fourth CCRFC rugger of the six Alma Mater IFA honorees to date.

CURFC 50th anniversary

The CURFC 2011 Spring season was historic: it marked the 50th Anniversary of the club, as well the occasion of the inaugural Ivy League 7s Championships. Columbia, hosted the event at Baker Field, reached the 1st Ivy 7s final and finished second to Brown. The 50th Anniversary of the club, celebrated on April 15-17, 2011, included a friendly XVs match vs Yale to commemorate the club’s first-ever match, the famous 1961 3-0 7s victory over Yale, in which the Lions again prevailed, 24-12. The club shared the celebration with the CUWRFC (1991-2011), whose 20th Anniversary coincided with the men’s 50th. CU seniors Derek Lipscomb (3rd time) and Conor Russomanno were 1st team All-Ivy selections, McMahon and Dzvairo were 2nd All-Ivy, and 6 other Lions were Ivy Honorable Mention. Following the Spring’s joyous events, however, Columbia rugby moved into the Summer’11 to the tragic news of the unexpected passing on July 24th of perhaps its greatest and most honored player, Richard ‘Dick’ Donelli (CC’59), captain/president of its undefeated 1963 team and co-founder of the OBRFC.

The club opened the 3rd Ivy competition with a victory over Brown, but ended up 8th at 1-6, while they went 2-3 in the 2nd Ivy 7s to finish 7th. The Spring 2012 season opened with new head coach, former US Eagles and Old Blue coach Ray Cornbill, assisted by former OB XVs and 7s Eagles star Dan Kennedy. Columbia assured a winning season, which included a tour of Barbados, in their last game with a 75-0 triumph over Yale, which was the most points, largest margin of victory and greatest shutout win over an Ivy opponent in club history. The Fall season saw the 4th Ivy Rugby League split into two divisions and Kennedy take over as head coach. The Lions finished 3-3 in the South, and then went 0-3 in the 3rd Ivy 7s.

The club went 4-3 in Spring 2013 and toured the Bahamas in March. They fell off to 1-5 in the 5th Ivy XVs in the Fall; and in the 4th Ivy 7s, went 3-2 to capture 3rd, and the CU B side took 2nd in the B bracket. In 2014, the CURFC were 4-1 in Spring XVs play, and fell to Harvard in the Ivy XVs wildcard match. With an emphasis on the 2016 Olympics 7s, the club’s focus turned to play in both the Rutgers 7s (3-1-1) and Stonybrook 7s (2-2-1), finishing 4th in both. On June 7, 2014, Columbia’s Dick Donelli was post-humously inducted into the US Rugby Football Foundation’s Hall of Fame.

That Fall, Columbia went 4-3 in the 6th Ivy XVs, defeating Brown, Cornell, Harvard and Penn. At the 5th Ivy 7s, the club was 2-2 good for 5th place, and the CURFC B side, also 2-2 took 4th. Last Spring, the CURFC entered a 7s side in the Las Vegas 7s CRC Qualifier, (0-4-1), falling in the Bowl semifinals. They went 1-3 in March in a blizzard before play was abandoned; and were 3-2 in the Philadelphia 7s, with but a single XVs match, a win over Fordham.

Richard Coppo,
CCRFC/OBRFC Historian.
September 14, 2015.

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