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Playing in the Armory - 1961

“Watch out for manure!”

This was not a warning in some country farm field masquerading as a rugby pitch. It was an admonition to ruggers playing a one time, sevens' invitational in an indoor Manhattan location, primarily used as a polo field.

The year was 1961, the Eastern Rugby Union listed but 18 teams scheduled to play for the first ERU spring championship. But first, as a warm up in March, six squads were invited to compete in the indoor, dirt covered Squadron A Armory on Madison Avenue and East 95th Street.

Squadron A Armory History

A group of wealthy male New York swells decided to start a quasi-military equestrian assemblage that would parade ceremonially on horses dressed in fancy uniforms and headgear, dating as far back as Napoleon’s cavalry. It escorted governmental big-wigs in state and federal levels, including presidents. And, after actual military training, its members served with honor in the Pancho Villa Mexican Border Expedition, as well as in World Wars I and II. Its motto is “Boutez en avant” or, simply, “charge.” During the 1950s, the squadron added polo to its program on an indoor field, shorter than regulation but usable in the winter.

A First- Sevens Indoors

In November 1959, the NYRFC started the first sevens event in the USA, when eight teams participated. It is probable this club knew of the Armory’s indoor dirt pitch, and conceived of the ingenious idea of staging a March tournament. Six clubs competed:  NYRFC, Yale, Brown, Westchester RFC, Long Island, and, for its rugger debut, Columbia, the last Ivy League school to play rugby. The event put up makeshift and portable goal posts.

Bob Phillips, Dartmouth ’60 and NYRFC, remembered the evening, “It was lots of fun. None of us had ever played indoors, and few had experienced sevens. But the two points of contrast were the assembled polo playing crowd of tailored debs cheering us on, and the post-game party afterward in the fancy Squadron A lounge, the cocktails in glasses a far cry from the sawdust, beer smell, and rowdy din of our local Irish bar.”

The Armory Afterward

During the early 1960s, the Armory welcomed winter rugby practices, twice weekly of the four City teams, NYRFC, Westchester, Old Blue, and Manhattan. Before each partice, the teams had to comb the field, picking up left over horse droppings.  In 1965, the building was razed, and, years later, a public school was built on the empty site, the historic façade still standing.