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The first Sevens tournament in the United States occurred during a 1959 Thanksgiving holiday Saturday in Manhattan sponsored by the New York RFC. The winner was an M.I.T. “A” team against an M.I.T. “B” squad. Eight teams participated, all from the north east.
Today, with over 200 sevens tournaments played nationally, mainly in the spring and summer time, it seems odd that the first sevens tournament would be scheduled in chilly, end of November in New York City. To understand why is to return to the end of the 1950’s decade, a time when only a few teams played any rugby, including, Harvard, M.I.T., Yale, Princeton, New York, Westchester, and Cornell. The NYRFC was aware that during the Thanksgiving recess many eastern college students gathered in New York City so it capitalized on this college influx to arrange the first sevens event in the US.
A year later in November 1960, the entrants had doubled to 16-teams, an indication of the jump in colleges playing rugby in the east. Added to the tournament roster that year were Dartmouth (two teams), Penn, Wesleyan (two teams), Columbia (first rugby game ever played), Villanova, Manhattan, Brown, and the visiting Montreal Irish.
This second year of the event brought coverage from the NY Times, which had started to write about rugby when 1958 Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins played for Oxford against Cambridge in the Varsity Match of that year. In November 1960, Dartmouth, emerging as the college powerhouse, won against Harvard. The popular NY 7s tournament expanded exponentially, and by 1963, 45 teams had entered. The Times recorded the winner with a rare rugby photograph and a long article by Bill Smith, one of the founders of Old Blue.
Most recently in 2013, more than 130 teams signed up for the NY 7s fall classic, with a majority coming from Canada.
(Read new columnist Phaidra Knight’s reporting on the recent US Club 7s tomorrow.)