History of Memphis Rugby by Phil Wyatt
The Memphis Blues Rugby Club has a history dating back to the fall of 1967 when Scotsman, Malcolm Williams & Welshman Bill Wright, originally founded the Club as the Memphis Wanderers #1 (Red with Black hooped jersey). In the spring of 1968 the first rugby game that was played in Memphis was held at Overton Park against Huntsville, AL. It was a loss with a score of (20 to 0). The first Memphis player to score was Mike Ellis against the Saint Louis Ramblers in Saint Louis, MO. At the time of this first game the scoring went like this: a try = 3 points, conversions after a try = 2 points, a penalty kick or a drop kick = 3 points. In 1969 the City of Memphis moved the field of play from Overton Park to Sea Isle Park and again in 1969 from Sea Isle Park to Toby Park. August 21, 1971 was proclaimed “Memphis Wanderers Rugby Club Day” by the then Memphis mayor Henry Loeb and the Wanderers performed at half-time of the Atlanta vs. Denver NFL pre-season game that evening at the Liberty Bowl stadium.
In 1972 the Club changed its name to the Memphis Bulls (solid powder blue jerseys) reflecting a sponsorship by Schlitz Brewery. In 1974 the club split into the Bulls & Wanderers #2 (Maroon with White hooped jersey). One year later, in 1975, the Bulls changed its name, this time to Memphis Old No.7 (Green with a Black hooped jersey) after affiliating with Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Over time the sponsorship with Jack Daniel’s diminished, yet the Club maintained the name Old No.7. The Wanderers #2 played their games at Audubon Park while Old Number 7 continued to use Toby Park.
Meanwhile, in 1985 the Rugby Club at the University of Memphis was established with the assistance of Old No.7 in order to create a college team in Memphis. Both Old No.7 and the University enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship over the years with the college side benefiting from having experienced Old No.7 players as coaches and Old No.7 enjoyed a pool of younger talent joining the team when their eligibility expired or they graduated from the University.
In the Fall of 1998, Memphis Old No.7 and the Rugby Club at the University of Memphis elected to merge and form the Memphis Blues Rugby Club. The impact of the merger had an immediate positive impact on the level of play and has distinguished the Memphis Blues as the premiere rugby club in Memphis as well as reestablishing Memphis, and specifically the Memphis Blues, as a formidable opponent.
The Memphis Blues are a Division 2 team, fielding 2 sides and competing in the True South Geographic Union along with Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Jackson, Chattanooga, Hopkinsville, Nashville and Knoxville. In addition the Memphis Blues compete in National Competitive Region 2 that is comprised of teams from the Florida, Georgia, Carolinas Geographical Unions.
The Blues home field is located at Tobey Park (located on N. Hollywood between Central and Park). Practices are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00 to 8:00. Home games are played at USA Stadium in Millington with a start time of around 1:00.
The Club has a number of sponsors, which aids in defraying costs associated with running the Club. The Club greatly appreciates the support of the sponsors and encourages players as well as patrons to visit our sponsors and to thank them for their support. We proudly salute Budweiser of Memphis, Celtic Crossing, Yuengling, Vicki Blackwell of Crye-Leike Realtors, Results Physiotherapy and UBS.
“McBride Field” in Tobey Park
Ken McBride was one of the originals of the Memphis Wanderers Rugby Club, a team formed circa 1969 by a ‘pom’ [English] Malcolm Williams who came from South Carolina for a short sabbatical at MSU.
[The fledgling (6 months old !) University of Florida Club [incl. John Young and yours truly] played against the Memphis Wanderers Rugby Club in the Mardi Gras Tournament in Baton Rouge in Feb 1970].
Malcolm returned to South Carolina and the Memphis Club somehow ‘vanished’. When I arrived in Memphis in August 1971, it took a couple of months of serious ‘digging’ to find anyone who knew about Memphis rugby until I found Ken McBride and we re-invigorated the address lists, got people out, recruited, etc and became the Memphis Bulls [got jerseys and ‘training beverage’ from Schlitz] then became Memphis Old #7 [jerseys and ‘training beverage’ courtesy of Jack Daniels]. As a result of serious encouragement of the Memphis Parks Commission, they gave us Tobey Park as our Home Ground.
Tragically, Ken McBride died of a heart attack, aged 33, in 1979. We petitioned the Parks Commission to re-name Tobey Park to McBride Field and while this was far from easy, we were eventually successful, a fitting memorial to this Memphis rugby pioneer [and a super guy, as well.]
by Phil Whyatt
Referees – The following were/are certified referees in the Memphis Area.
- Peter Jones (retired)
- Ed Mann (retired)
- Marvin Lancaster (retired)
- Steve Leaman (retired)
- Rick Cole (retired)
- Rick Bolton (retired)
- Alistair Twaddle (retired)
- Brad Cole
- Troy McCall
- Eric Flemming
- Rob Halcomb
- Jonathan Brewi
Memphis Rugby Club
West Tennessee High School