History of NYAC Rugby
It doesn't seem possible that twenty years have gone by since Bill Smith, Jack Delany and I were sitting in a bar discussing the possibility of forming a rugby club within the New York Athletic Club, but it was January of 1973. The Club had been approached by another group some fourteen years earlier but the time just was not ripe, and the club turned them down. This time though, the game had enjoyed a terrific growth, particularly around New York City, and Jack Delaney was very enthusiastic about supporting us and using his influence to gain support from the Board of Governors. They quickly assigned us a budget of $1000, which was mind boggling at the time to Billy and me. We had spent nearly 20 years playing with rugby clubs who existed through the Christmas raffle.
Once given permission to form the club we had to take inventory of the players we had available and make some decisions as to whom, when, and where we were going to play. There were in fact a number of very good players who were members of the New York Athletic Club but unfortunately, they were all committed to playing with other clubs and we were moderately successful at recruiting them in the first season. We then made the decision to get the program off the ground by forming a Sunday side. After a hurried call for the recruits we held our first practice on a Sunday afternoon in February of 1973 in the gym. We had something like seven or eight new recruits, people who were athletic and eager to try something new, but who had never played rugby before. Together with them and members of the A.C. who were playing with other clubs we filled 15 spots for our first side. In that first Spring season, many if us played each Saturday with our regular clubs and every Sunday with the NYAC team, to be known as Winged Foot.
Before the first game, George Mayer and I were assigned the task of going up to Travers Island and to survey the playing conditions. We found a 200 year old tree in the in-goal area, a baseball diamond on one end, and four shot putting rings, which were actually steel rings filled with seven inches of reinforced concrete, on our new playing field. Naturally, they strategically placed right at the half-way and inside the touch lines. We had to use great imagination to lay out the pitch in the form of a parallelogram so that the tree, which was at least 6 feet in diameter, would fall in the in goal area, rather than on the playing area.
We organized a party to go up there the following Saturday armed with sledge hammers and crow bars to break up the shot putting rings. This was hell of a lot easier said than done and we had only partly completed the job when our first scheduled home match came up. It was held on a Sunday in April 1973 against the Old Blue Thirds and luck would have it there was a heavy down pour all day long. In the morning, I had gone to the nursery and purchased 60 to 70 square feet of sod. The owner was somewhat incredulous when he was standing in the pouring rain loading it into the stationwagon and he asked "what on earth are you doing to do with sod on a day like this?" I said, "I'm just going to fix my rugby pitch". He simply stood there scratching his head as we went off to Travers Island and immediately set about covering the concrete with a carpet of sod, figuring that the Old Blue would be the none wiser. Sure enough, early in the game I tackled someone who landed on top of the soil who cursed" damn, this pitch feels like concrete".
Eventually we completed the job, had the baseball infield sodded in and continued to play on our parallelogram field for the next five years, much to the dismay of the referees, who could never sort out a forward pass.
We became a regular side in the fall of 1973 and about two years later when the Metropolitan Rugby Union was formed we were assigned to the third division. We won the third division that year and moved up to second division the following season. We won that also, and competed in the first division until 2001. During that time we had two Sweet Sixteen National Tournament appearances and in 2001,after losing in the finals of the Division 1 National Championship, we were asked to join the Rugby Super League and have been there ever since.
Winged Foot has grown from those early days of scratching for 15 men, to a point where we are now the most successful member of the elite USA Rugby Super League. We field two sides every weekend and an Old Boys side several times each season. The addition of Mike Tolkin and his Xavier High Alumni, along with some key player acquisitions, and as a result of consolidation in the Met Union has emerged an even stronger Winged Foot Rugby Club. The Winged Foot now regularly plays matches all over the US. We have won Rugby Super League National Championships in 2005, 2008 and 2010 and hold the most national titles of any current member of the Rugby Super League.
For anyone who lives and works in the New York area, there is no finer place to play rugby than with the Winged Foot. The financial support, the marvelous athletic facilities of the Parent Club, and perhaps most important, the caliber of the individuals who belong to it are second to none. - Robert Cullum Sr.-1993