West Potomac Rugby Football Club is a cherished part of the Washington DC rugby football scene. Many locals claim that the team was founded in 1963 as a Division III club playing in the Potomac Rugby Union (although the actual date may be significantly earlier).

As the chronicles, passed down in oral tradition, tell it, West Potomac Rugby Football Club (WPRFC) originated in 1963 when a group of bed-wetting British Naval officers with Cockney accents were enrolled in a year-long course in International Diplomacy at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies (SAIS is on Massachusetts Ave in N.W. DC, not in Baltimore).

One day while cruising about the provinces, observing the daily habits and activities of the Colonials, they espied a Rugby match between Washington Rugby Club (then comprised of a bunch of bed-wetters with Cockney accents from various British Commonwealth Embassies) and Club de Sudamericano (also, despite the name, comprised of a bunch of bed-wetters with Cockney accents from various British Commonwealth Embassies). After the initial shock of seeing Rugby being played in America, they quickly came to the conclusion: “Bloody Hell! We could beat that lot!”

And so they formed a team, called it SAIS RFC, had one practice, and there being only abut three Rugby clubs in Washington at that time, quickly scheduled matches and DID beat Washington and SUD. And over the next year or so, they beat them again and again. During this period, as a matter of course, they recruited some USMC officers also taking (and no doubt in need of) courses in International Diplomacy and various SAIS students to the team. In due time, the Brits finished their course of study and sailed back to Merry Old England. Almost immediately the wheels began to come off the cart!

In fact this is just the tip of the historical iceberg. What follows is an account of the team’s history and the suprising ways in which it has enriched – and impacted – on local and national events:

WPRFC and the War of 1812

August 24, 1814 is a well known – and oft misunderstood day – in American and rugby history. It is in fact when rugby first began. A group of American citizens proudly defended the abandoned capitol from the approaching British Army.

The Brits – sensing the peril that awaited – kindly asked if there was another option than death and destruction. The Americans offered them the choice of a game called lacrosse played by the Indians or “Smear the Tory” played by the local schoolchildren. If the American’s won the British would have to cross to the Western side of the Potomac and march back to their ships further down the river (hence the team name “West Potomac”).

Thinking it the more harmless of the two the Brits chose the latter. Each side chose their bravest, strongest and fastest men. As usual one team was short a man and had to borrow a player but the history books are vague on the subject.

Many rules had not yet been ironed out – however it was the start of what we call rugby. After the Americans had won the match they took pity upon the Brits and invited them to the local pub. Everyone got along extremely well – and some Americans and British soldiers actually exchanged uniforms! Unfortunately the players in their zeal and celebrating had too much porter and stout. In the drunken fest afterwards many fires were inadverntly set – burning much of Washington, DC.

The Americans realizing that the local citizenry would be quite upset upon their return came up with a legend. A story that the British entered the town unopposed and set fire to the buildings. A local woman of “loose morals” – who had remained behind after her husband had left – even chimed in with stories of drunk men in British uniforms looting and burning buildings. She even went on to claim that she had saved several paintings and the silver from her house right before the British had arrived (when in fact it was the British who saved them after she lit the house on fire).

The story worked wonderfully – and the rugby tradition of blaming everything on the visiting team began. However several of the West Potomac players left town to ensure their safety – arriving in New Orleans just in time for a rematch.

Locally, another game was played on September 13, 1814 at Ft. McHenry. The Americain’s again won the game and celebrated by firing off many fireworks – a tradition which West Potomac celebrates several times a year. These fireworks caused a lot of damage however and the American’s blamed it on a supposed “British Navy bombardment”.

One of the quicker witted among the West Potomac players – a Mr. Francis Scott Key – even claimed it as the source of inspiration for a song he had written called “The Star Spangled Banner”. Quite a few in the crowd – knowing Mr. Key for the drunk that he was – did not believe him. However, when he improvised a catchy little ditty the townspeople believed him.

Nine years later – in 1823 – a British school boy by the name of William Webb Ellis – having heard the story from his father many times – introduced the game to his schoolyard.

West Potomac RFC has been a part of many other historical events which have been passed down from generation to generation in song. These will be covered at a later date.


Latest Posts

1 week ago

West Potomac Rugby

For Veterans Day we are posting this article that was published in Rugby Magazine back in 2001 about West Potomac RFC and our large number of active and veteran miliatry personnel who have honored our club by being a part of us. The names have changed over the years but our current sides still have a large military presence.

The West Potomac RFC
By Buzz McClain
Rugby Magazine

With the exception of the Combined Forces, we've never come across a team so loaded with active, reserve or retired military personnel as the West Potomac RFC of Washington, DC.

Their roster includes 34 players - about half of the team - who wear or have warn service uniforms when not in their red and white West Potomac hoops. Their ranks include a Rhodesian special forces officer and a member of the Royal Australian Navy, as well as a few Yanks with significant decorations fir battle.

It's almost anticlimactic that Scott McCallum, who played with West Potomac in the late 1960's and early '70s was recently sworn in as governor if Wisconsin.

Even though this disproportion of military-to-civilian ratio is high, "It's not as many as we've had in the past," says Jake Jacobson, a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps. "We've had more."

The team practices at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, but other than "a few strays we've picked up there," says Jacobson, that's not the reason why West Pot's nickname should be the Patriots.
SAIS What?

"We started out as Sayas," says Ed Smith, who signed on with the club in 1977. Smitty is known wide and far in the international rugby community simply as Smitty.
The Seeas? “No, SAIS. It was a bunch of Brit Naval Officers who were enrolled in the International Diplomacy course at Johns Hopkins (School of International Studies) in DC.”

According to Smith, most of those original players were military, as were their American counterparts, and a few civilians got caught up in the mix as well. The year was 1963 and SAIS and Washington RFCs were the only teams around.

They Like Wives

Since those days, West Potomac has always had more than its share of men in uniform. And while there are some club presidents counting the military men on their own clubs right now to see if they can top West Potomac, try to top this statistic: West Potomac has more than 320 Campaign Medals among club members – and 17 divorces.

“I compare rugby to the military,” says Jacobson, who flew numerous combat missions in Vietnam in the back seat of F-4 Phantoms as an Intercept Officer. “The fellowship and camaraderie in a rugby club is very similar to that in a small unit organization like a military squadron or company, where you work and play together.

“Particularly with West Potomac, it’s not just a team, it’s a club. We have bachelor parties, baby showers, parties for the wives – it’s a family affair. There were more kids than adults at our Fat Run, the first practice of the spring in February.” Jacobson, who plays wing forward and second row, didn’t discover rugby until he was 36 and in grad school in California (his first team was the Monterey RFC). Now he plays with the West Potomac Old Boys and the Washington Area Rugby Traveling Side (WARTS), which is headed to the Golden Oldies Tournament in Toulouse, France, in May. “And I still whore a game with B-side when I can,” he says.

Rugby is Hell!

Ed Smith’s career as a second row began in Hawaii in the 1970s, when he was selected to sponsor an Australian company that spent time with his battalion. “That meant I spent two weeks with a bunch of crazy Australians,” he says. “And they played two rugby games while they were there. The company sergeant major said, ‘Hey Smith, get over there and play second row.’ I said, ‘Play what?’”

Smith, who plays with West Potomac, the Old Boys and the WARTS, agrees with Jacobson that rugby and the military share attributes – especial the camaraderie aspects – but he adds that rugby “is as close as you can get to combat. Your adrenaline starts pumping just like in combat. It challenges your courage every other second.”

I double- check the remark. Smith, after all, did three tours in Vietnam. Are you sure about that combat comparison” “Yes, it is similar,” Smith says. “And I’ve seen a lot of action.”

For those of us who have never been exposed to the “action” Smith refers to, you have to appreciate what it says about our favorite sport. Let’s turn to the book, “Seven Firefights in Vietnam,” an Army publication. “Suddenly materializing from their jungle concealment, fifteen to twenty of the enemy, their AK47s firing full automatic, rushed at the 2nd squad. Two paratroopers were hit; then the squad leader took a fatal round. Sergeant Smith rallied the squad and kept the perimeter intact. It was the first bitter taste of things to come….”

“…(T)he sleek F-100s hit an area just outside the 2nd squad…with 250-pound bombs, napalm and 22mm cannon shells. Crouching behind a log in front of the squad, Sergeant Smith and his companions in the outpost felt the concussion of the bombs roll over them. It was very close, almost too close for the sergeant. ‘That second air strike was right in there,’ Smith recalled. ‘If we’d been on the other side of the log, we wouldn’t be here now.’

“(Two others) who had been wounded in the firefight moved back from the outpost after the last bomb landed, leaving Smith, who was rapidly expending the last of his ammunition. Sergeant Smith was becoming a favorite target for enemy snipers concealed in tall trees. Spec 4 Grady L. Madison dashed forward, bringing him badly needed M16 and M79 ammunition. Smith reloaded and fired into some trees to his right. A sniper who had lashed himself to a tree limb tumbled out of his perch; head down, his body swayed grotesquely.”

The Sergeant Smith in the book is Ed Smith, but this is as much as you will get out of him or most of the others when it comes to war stories. Smith – who did not send me the “Firefights” book – declines to describe his military decorations. “It doesn’t matter whether anyone served in a frontline combat unit- and many have,” he writes in e-mail. “What matters is that they were willing to put their lives on the line for this, the greatest country in the world, in a time when they were needed. They also serve who do the daily manning reports.

“In Vietnam the men in the rear probably had a worse time then the men in the bush. At least the men in the bush could shoot back at the people shooting at them. The men in the rear usually had to hide in bunkers during mortar and rocket attacks.”

But get Smith talking about the George Washington University woman’s team, which is being coached by West Potomac members, and he happily gives a blow by blow account of the weekend’s tries.


Edward J. Smith
Marty Chazen
Charlie Pringle
Dallas Weaver*
Don Phillips
Ali Traish
Todd Tarnoff*
Brian Smith*
Ed Hooks*
Jason Peterson
C.R. (Bill) Kinsey
Jake Jacobson
Lou Kobus
Denny Morgan
Ric Peregrino
U.S. Navy
Chuck Creedon
Marvin Ferguson
Rich McNamara
Phil Dixon
Pete Dundas*
John Masoti
Josh Williams*
U.S. Air Force
James Armstrong*
Dain Bentley*
Lou Danner*
Bob Max
Neal Dill
U.S. Coast Guard
Paul Gessner
Paul Potter
Jon Lewis*
Shad Scheirman*
U.S. Maritime Service
Matt Shanley
Murray Kruger
Australian Navy
Oliver York
*Denotes current active/reserves
... See MoreSee Less


Comment on Facebook

To all who served we appreciate you

+ View previous comments

1 week ago

West Potomac Rugby

West Potomac RFC offers our sincere gratitude to all who have served, to keep our nation safe and free, including our many, many past and current players. Thank you.
Happy Veterans Day!
... See MoreSee Less

West Potomac RFC offers our sincere gratitude to all who have served, to keep our nation safe and free, including our many, many past and current players.  Thank you.  
Happy Veterans Day!

2 weeks ago

West Potomac Rugby

West Potomac has wrapped up our fall season with a great Mystery Box. Our winner, Identity Protected, got several items including a bottle of Old Gessner Bourbon. ... See MoreSee Less

West Potomac has wrapped up our fall season with a great Mystery Box. Our winner, Identity Protected, got several items including a bottle of Old Gessner Bourbon.


Comment on Facebook

that chin reveals everything tho

+ View previous comments

1 month ago

West Potomac Rugby

Join West Potomac tomorrow for a double header at Gravelly Point Park in Arlington! A-side kicks off at 12pm with West Potomac taking on Western Suburbs immediatey followed by a B side contest pitting a combined West Potomac/Suburbs side against the Renegades! ... See MoreSee Less