Category Archives: Memphis Rugby Football – Hall of Fame

Ralph Parks

Ralph started his athletic career playing football in Memphis for Booker T Washington high school where he excelled as a safety. He was so good that he was recruited and attended Grambling State University and played under the famous Eddie Robinson.

He returned to Memphis and found rugby as an outlet for his talents at the age of 28 and started playing for Old #7.  At that time he worked at a TV station as a cameraman.

One of his highlights was playing at the annual Cotton Carnival Rugby Tournament (held in May during the Memphis Cotton Carnival Festival) hosted by Old #7 that invited teams from around the world to participate. Many of the Cotton Carnival tournaments were held at Overton Park in Memphis.

After playing, Ralph picked up a whistle and refereed for 8 years advancing to C-2 level.

Ralph began his time as a coach with the Memphis Flamingo’s Rugby Team in 2008 where he remains a key figure of the team.

Memories:

Ralph remembers fondly playing on the Tennessee Long Rifles touring side that visited New Zealand and Australia during the 1987 Rugby World Cup. The Long Rifles were managed by long time Vanderbilt coach Joe Franklin. The touring side consisted mainly of players from Memphis and Nashville with a few friends mixed in. While in Australia Ralph was asked to play on a Brisbane club side. During the match he pulled a hamstring and had to retire, but until then he was having a blast.

A match that sticks in Ralphs’ mind is a match with the Ramblers in St. Louis. He scored 2 tries from wing and provided excellent outside defense to shut down the offense and secure the win. The post match was held at a local establishment across from Forrest Park.

Ralph has had the opportunity to attend three world cups, Australia/New Zealand in 1987 and England in 1991 and 1999.

As a retired player, Ralph remained a member of Old #7 and hosted many Tournament parties at his Lake Park Apartment club house. As the Cotton Carnival Tournament evolved into the Memphis in May Rugby Tournament, it grew in stature and fame. One year Old #7 hosted the Bank of Ireland team who won the tournament and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty and style of our gorgeous women in Memphis. The parties at Lake Park were legend… just ask anyone who thinks they remember being there.

Ralph remains involved with athletics and currently is assistant coach of the Flamingos and is a softball umpire, a job he has enjoyed since 1997.

“I’ve met some of my best friends in rugby and they have remained my friends for over 30 years,” State Ralph.  “Rugby friends look after each other on and off the pitch.”

Oscar Wilkins

Oscar Wilkins was inducted into the Memphis Rugby Hall of Fame in 2016 for his playing ability and for establishing the sport of rugby to Memphis.

Presentation By Arlan “Ace” Eilert

Oscar was a 1966 graduate of Booker T. Washington HS in Memphis. He was also a 38 year employee of the BNSF Railroad where he achieved many honors in education and where he pioneered several skilled services.

Oscar is a first year co-Founder of Memphis Rugby and joined in August of 1968. He was one the first five Back Rugby players to play in the South. He started playing Rugby on a dare from one of his friends. We’re forever glad he took that dare.

He played in first Game by a Memphis team. That match was on an October 1968 trip to Huntsville, AL. That match was against at the Redstone Arsenal team. An early rain storm left 6” of rain on the field. Therefore, we thought the match would be called; however, Redstone said that they never cancelled a game. That game was a mud bath. We lost our first match 10 to 0.

Oscar played the position of Wing Three-quarter. He had three bothers that also played: (Melvin, Sylvester and Floyd). He had two sisters (Susan & Alfreda), his wife Linda, and his Sister-in-law Nancy that played for the Memphis Belles RFC. His family contributed greatly to Memphis Rugby.

Oscar’s Rugby Accomplishments include:
1) One of two Black players first every selected to the USA National Team-1969 (Legion Field in Birmingham – England 7 and the USA 5)
2) He played on the first integrated Rugby team in the South
3) He never missed a one-on-one tackle in 12 years of Rugby
4) He could run a 40 yard dash in 4.5 seconds
4) He was never out run in 12 years of Rugby
5) He was never caught from behind in 12 years of Rugby
6) He could out jump anyone on any of his teams
7) He invented our (lineout & standoff bullet-pass)

He was given several nicknames over the years: “Designated Driver” “Bail Bondsmen” “Guardian Angel”. He was given these nicknames because he is and was a man of Faith and never drank, never smoked cigarettes, never cursed, never ran with wild women and never did drugs. Consequently, Oscar never participated in any partying or singing contests. Oscar tolerated that from our team and stood in the back of the room. Because of his responsibility and loyal steadfastness other players started giving him their car keys, wallets and credit cards; therefore he earned these nicknames.

In his 12 years of Rugby, Oscar played on 4 Rugby Clubs: The Wanderers, the Bulls, Ole #7 and the Memphis Rugby Club-The Gold. He also played on the 1976 unified tournament team the Memphis Mad Dogs.

Oscar played in one tournament outside the country. It was hosted by the Canadian Anglos from Windsor, Canada in 1977.

Story #1
The Wanderers were playing Huntsville in Huntsville in March of 1969. Oscar was moved to 8th Man-Lock at half time. With less than a minute to go in the game, he awarded 2 minutes for an injury. Since he was the injured player no one expected him of any more effort. When the ball came out of the scrum he broke away and got the ball, faked to Standoff and went to the weak side. He got passed their Winger & hurdled over the head of the Fullback and into the End zone for the winning score. Oscar won that game. Big John Roberts carried him off the field on his shoulders. Oscar won that game.

Story #2
The Wanderers were playing Huntsville in Memphis in July of 1969, Oscar was moved to Wing-Forward, his first time in that position. He was able out jump all players on both sides the whole game without any assistance or support. Up till that time no one realized Oscar could jump that high until that game. That game was played on 7/21/69. That was the day the USA landed a man on the moon. This game became known as our Man-on-the-Moon-Game.

Story #3
The Wanderers were playing UT in Knoxville, spring of 1971. It was less than a minute to go in the game and UT was leading. Instead of running the clock out a UT player kicked a grounder over into our goal. Oscar playing Winger scooped the ball up ran from End zone to End zone up through the middle of the field untouched for the winning score. Phil Wyatt started yelling “Oscar is our Jim Brown”. Oscar won that game.

Story #4
The Wanderers were playing the Atlanta Renegades at half time in the Liberty Bowl – 8/21/71. The Pro game was a boring low scoring defensive game. Our half time Exhibition was anything but boring. During an opportunity in the match, Oscar playing Winger was able to scoop up the ball and run End zone to End zone along the sideline untouched through many missed tackles. With that run Oscar the entire stadium was on their feet with a roaring cheer. Unfortunately, his run was called back for stepping on the touch line. While we were walking off the field and passed the Denver team, their Quarterback leaned over to Oscar and said, “You Rugby guys are crazy.” All the rest of us smiled because we knew he was right.

It is with pleasure that I present to you the next member of the Memphis Rugby Hall of Fame, Oscar Wilkins.

Steve Swatzyna

Steve Swatzyna was inducted into the Memphis Rugby Hall of Fame in 2016 for his playing ability and consistent contributions to the sport of rugby in Memphis.

Honorary by Tony Lubiani

Greetings Ladies and Gentlemen

I’m glad to see some old faces, some young faces and some familiar ugly ones as well. I’m honored to stand before you tonight to recognize the accomplishments of the next honoree to the Memphis Rugby Hall of Fame.

I’ve known this guy since we were 17 years old, which now has been 45 years. It so happens that my wife Rosemary takes credit for this fellow receiving his award tonight. 45 years ago, Rosemary’s best friend was this fellow’s girl friend. Because of the girl’s friendship, we double dated quite a bit. As we hung out together our friendship grew and it wasn’t long that I introduced him to the sport of rugby, a sport introduced to me by my brother Ernie. My friend already enjoyed football for Bishop Byrne, and he thought another contact sport sounded fun.

Now, you old boys remember this but 45 years ago when you started playing rugby you began a steep learning curve that took several years. You see, there weren’t computers back then where you could YouTube the game.  You learned from whomever you were around who might have knowledge of or experience with the game. Well… This guy we are honoring today fell in love with the sport and quickly became a student of the game.

His first taste of rugby came in the fall of 1972 when he joined the Wanderers and played a match against the Birmingham RFC . A group of brothers known as the Krebs brothers consisted of a third of their team. They were big and powerful and played an aggressive form of rugby. Were to you put a new athlete with no rugby experience? Fullback of course.  But due to player injury he was moved around and ended up playing several positions including scrum half.

So, what was this player’s first taste of rugby?  He broke his collar bone.  Well, I figured that is the last we will see of him, but that could not have been farther from the truth. As soon as possible, he was back at practice perfecting his skills and loving every minute of it.

Being a glutton for punishment, we played side by side for the Wanderers making road trips to Birmingham, Nashville, St. Louis, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Fort Campbell.  Each weekend we played A and B matches, sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays. We kept this pace through the spring of 1978.

Then due to a series of circumstances, we ended up playing for Old #7 in the fall of 1978.  Every step of the way our honoree continued to learn and better himself.  Due to his drive to achieve athletic excellence, he made the Mid South Select side at scrum half in 1978. Then he went on to be chosen to the South Select side from 1978 to 1982.  He moved up another rung on the select side ladder, making the Eastern Rugby Union (ERU) select side in 1982.

Our honoree played an international match between the ERU and the South Africa Springboks while there was an international sanction on South African athletes.  The match was played in a secret place to limit the demonstrations against the team.  (SN: An interesting fact is that Dr. Peter Jones was the referee that day.) The score was not even close, but the experience our honoree gained was unforgettable.

He was invited to the Eagles camp from 1979 to 1982 and he continued to play for Old #7 until 1992.

By 1992, his playing time had finally caught up with him and though he was not longer playing the game he was not out of the game.

Early on he gave back to the sport that had given him so much.  He picked up the coaches whistle and started teaching others about the game. He coached the Collierville High School rugby team from 1998 to 2000.

After two years off he was asked to coach the Memphis Tigers, a team he took over from 2002 to 2006.  Following a break he returned to the Tigers in 2010, joining with Dr. Richard Cole to work with the Tigers where he remains today as the Backs, 7s and competition coach for the Tigers.  Under his direction and coaching the Tigers have risen from a struggling D3 team to a competitive D1aa team in the South Independent Rugby Conference.

This man has given his blood, sweat, money and tears for the sport of rugby. He has built rugby fields, spread paint, fertilizer, raised goal posts and built into the lives of young men in order to advance the sport that he loves so much.

So, the next time you see Rosemary, tell her thanks for introducing him to the sport of rugby.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of the Memphis Rugby Hall of Fame, Mr. Steve Swatzyna.