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Photo - Courtesy Rugby Historical Society

A brief history of California: In 1849, the year of the famous Gold Rush, San Francisco numbered 25,000 people while the settlement south called Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles could only report 1,600 inhabitants.  Sixty-one years later in 1910, San Francisco listed 417,000 in the census, while LA, still a sparse, desert city without adequate water, totaled 320,000. 

USC, the dominant university in southern California, took notice of what was happening with the decision to play rugby at Stanford and Cal, but decided to stay with the gridiron game. This was a practical decision since many of its football rivals were against other nearby LA area colleges that also decided not to switch. USC could continue to play football regularly with minimum travel costs versus a limited schedule,  home and away rugby contests with Cal and Stanford that could only be traveled to and from by a long steamer boat ride. It was not until 1911 that USC stopped gridiron and played rugby exclusively for the next three years.

The debate for and against football or rugby was fueled by sports page articles that also started to appear in the Los Angeles Times. In December 1905, the newspaper ran its first piece under the headline: “RUGBY GAME IS FASTEST. Danger of Injury Reduced, and Play Swifter.’ The next chronological article on September 1906 brought the discussion into full light: “HIGH SCHOOLS REJECT RUGBY. English Exponent Finds Few Sympathizers.”  By 1908, an odd compromise took place with the ten, leading LA high schools when five chose rugby, and five for football.

One beneficial result for the LA rugby proponents was the beginning of the Castaways RFC, a Los Angeles-based team made up of almost all ex-Patriots, and eventually, nicknamed, “The Britishers.”  It was able to schedule practice sessions and actual games against some of the high schools. But its sights were always aimed up north, against Stanford, Cal, the Olympic Club, and the San Francisco Barbarians RFC. When it did first play Stanford in 1907, the LA Times carried a full page banner headline announcing: “STANFORD IS HELD TO CLOSE SCORE IN GREAT RUGBY CONTEST.”  

From 1907 onward and for the next six years, LA high schools played rugby with as many as seven schools forming a league with a championship. Yet, even after USC abandoned gridiron for rugby, dissent continued as to whether to return to football. The spirited dispute would trigger a comprehensive argument against rugby written by Warren Bovard, the Athletic Director of USC. The hue and cry over rugby replacing football in Los Angeles became moot when Cal dropped rugby in 1914, and Stanford’s “Big Game,” continued for a few years without its cross-Bay rival. By 1918, few players from either university remained who knew how to play the rugger game.  When high schools in both parts of California also followed the return to American football, rugby ceased to exist in Los Angeles, with the result that the Castaways disbanded and disappeared into history.