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To understand the beginnings of rugby at Dartmouth is to recognize the importance of geography and gender. The college, founded in 1769, is located in Hanover, New Hampshire, where the weather is listed officially as "long, cold, and snowy winters." The town's population numbers slightly more than 10,000, a rural hamlet far from any large urban area, and miles from any women's college. Since few activities exist in the wintry months, even surfer students from Hawaii volunteer for the ski patrol. Dartmouth remained all male until 1974 when females were first admitted.
Return to 1951, and combine the wintry elements extending into early April with college men eager to meet coeds, and the unexpected solution was to visit sunny Bermuda at spring break to play rugby. (N.B. The Bermuda College Weekend rugby invitations began with Yale in 1933.) After this first Dartmouth tour, once rugby became a college fixture, it blossomed into an energetic, student-run club that attracted many undergrads eager for a contact sport.
Two Dartmouth rugby alumni illustrate the enthusiasm engendered in the 1950s, continuing with the proactive alumni support of today that contributed to a winning rugby program for men and women.
Will Gray '59 - In the autumn of 1958, extraordinary plans were being made for the Dartmouth RFC to play in England. This would represent the first ever American college or club rugby tour to Great Britain or Ireland. Overcoming many logistical obstacles, most notably, British resistance to what it anticipated were dilettante Yanks with no knowledge of the game, 19 players began a three-week tour in December. Gray understood that this historic visit would mark an unforgettable milestone for the club and efficiently collected media and other memorabilia related to the seven games. He also chronicled the post match parties and the social affairs. He recorded match conversions and tries, he clipped articles from the London newspapers' sports pages, and he gathered photographs of VIP dinners hosted for the ensemble.
The visit produced a Big Green 5-2 tally, the result surprising the locals who were generous in praise of the rugby skills and hard tackling of the Americans. In January of 1959, noted writer Corey Ford wrote up the Dartmouth trip for Sports Illustrated, the first serious magazine article about rugby in the USA.
Gray's archival talent did not end recording the winter's England event as the energized Dartmouth XV decided to test its mettle against west coast competition. In the spring of 1959, the team booked a four-game California tour against U. San Diego, University Club of Los Angeles, Pomona College, and UCLA. Dartmouth won three games on shutouts, losing only to UCLA 16-8, which featured many burly PAC-10 football players. Gray's summarized the matches in a detailed, end of year document, chronicling the club's spectacular 19-3-1 fall and spring season game record.
This outstanding archive in full has served as the honored record for almost sixty-years of Dartmouth's RFC's annus mirabilis, the first written account of the club's decades of rugby supremacy. And heartfelt thanks are due to Will Gray.
Bob Phillips '60 - Phillips discovered rugby his junior year, and accompanied the team on its 1959 California trip. As a senior in 1960, he played on the squad that tied for the Carling Cup, emblematic of the Eastern Rugby Union Championship. After graduation, he moved to Manhattan where he played for the New York RFC, most notably, a pregame exhibition in Baltimore before an NFL Colts game. He enjoyed an extensive and prosperous business career at Unilever as its North American Business Group President and Global Coordinator of Personal Products. When alumnus Alex Magleby assumed the Dartmouth head coaching position in 2001, Phillips realized that for the rugby program to succeed as an off-campus club without college support, it needed to operate on a sound financial footing, which included an annual coach's salary. He and other rugby alumni raised $1.3 million to build the Corey Ford Clubhouse dedicated in 2005, and today, it stands as one of the nation's superior facilities of fields, clubhouse, and training center.
As generous as he is modest, in 2010 Phillips individually funded the rugby electronic scoreboard naming it: "Honoring the 1959 California Tour." He has served on the Dartmouth Rugby's Alumni organization, his presence visible at home games in Hanover, and also at the Penn Mutual College Rugby Championship in Philadelphia.
Many years ago, he and business associates acquired the Royall Lyme Bermuda men's cologne line, which advertised frequently in Rugby Magazine. One line extension he created was Royall Rugby that led to sponsorships at the CRC, Las Vegas Sevens, and also to past Ivy League Rugby Championships. The Dartmouth RFC is proud to have such a big-hearted, dedicated alumnus in Bob Phillips.
Gray and Phillips Share an Anxious 1959 California Tour Memory
At a training session inside the UCLA athletic complex, Gray and Phillips encountered a 6' 3", 200-pound UCLA athlete changing. They became fearful that this mountain of a muscular man was one of the Bruin footballers, soon to meet (and possibly crush) the Dartmouth players in the rugby match. But at a second glance, they both recognized he was not a rugger but Rafer Johnson, the 1956 silver medalist in the Olympic track Decathlon (Gold in Rome in 1960). Their sigh of relief could be heard across country all the way from Westwood, California, to Hanover, New Hampshire.