The game of rugby was first brought to Atlanta in 1966 when Englishman Alan Simms founded the Atlanta RFC. Around the same time, rugby was imported to the college town of Athens, about an hour northeast of Georgia’s capital. The Athens club quickly flourished, far surpassing the standard of the floundering Atlanta RFC. In 1971 Atlanta RFC was further weakened by a group of “Renegade” players who broke away from the club to form The Atlanta Renegades. This breakaway club proved no more successful than the original version of Atlanta RFC, leaving Atlanta with two less than dominating sides.
While the beginnings of rugby in Atlanta were far from glorious, the seeds of a great club had been planted, and in 1974 they gave fruit. Four men; Beau Bock and Bob Langley from the Renegades along with Dan Fry and David Branch from Atlanta, met over a cheap domestic (or two) to discuss the formation of a new club dedicated to winning rugby.
Beau Bock, an experienced prop from New York who had played against both All Blacks and Fiji, seeing the need for instant credibility suggested the club rename itself “Old White” — a name worn proudly by the club for over 30 years. The new club made its debut in the Fall of 1974 on Satuday, November 16th with a tough 9-0 loss to Clemson University. The memory of this loss, though, was erased by a stunning 31 game winning streak. Seven times during this streak, Old White took the championship final in national caliber tournaments. Old White’s winning ways finally ended in 1976, but by this point the club had established itself as a dominating force in Southern rugby. Later that year, though, in November of 1976 in the finals of the prestigious Peachtree Invitational Tournament, Old White would suffer another tough loss. This time the loss was to the Renegades. It was the first time Old White had fallen to their cross-town rivals.
Still, Old White continued to play a high level of rugby. Throughout this time, Old White developed a reputation as a premier hosting and touring club with a tour of England and Wales in 1981, a second tour to England in 1985 and a tour of New Zealand in 1990. Old White made its fourth team tour to Scotland in March of 1996. The club has also hosted touring sides from Ireland, New Zealand, England, Argentina and Wales. The dynamics of rugby in Atlanta, The South and the Eastern Rugby Union changed in 1984 when Life Chiropractic College in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta started a rugby program. Unlike most American men’s clubs, Life was well-equipped with extensive financial resources, and was able to award scholarship grants to many top-level players. It was only three years after their inception that Life won the Eastern Championships.
With the emergence of a powerful program at Life, Old White again dedicated itself to becoming the best Atlanta had to offer. 1988 saw a tie with mighty Life and a 13-12 victory over the Renegades propelled Old White to the Eastern playoffs.
It was in 1989, though, which proved to be a watershed year for Old White Rugby as the club advanced to the Eastern semifinal game where it once again faced the rival Renegades. A bitter 12-9 loss motivated Old White to redouble its efforts, and that fall Old White rolled over all comers, including a 37-6 win over Life, to win the Southeastern championship and advance to the Eastern Finals. After falling behind early to perennial Eastern contender, Washington, DC, Old White mounted a courageous second half comeback, cutting the lead to three late in the game. Unfortunately, the comeback ran out of time, and Old White suffered a dramatic 13-10 loss. After the 1990 tour of New Zealand, Old White worked its way back to the Eastern Rugby Union Championship game where it defeated Mystic River Rugby Club of Boston to win the Eastern Championships. It was also in 1990 that the Old White 7′s program first qualified as one of only eight teams to make the Eastern Rugby Union Playoffs, an achievement it would duplicate in both 1991 and 1992.
The club went through a brief down period in 1993 and 1994 as many of the players who led the charge through the late 1980′s and early 1990′s retired from active member status. Still, the drive to return to national prominence remained, and 1995 saw a restoration of the traditional high standard of Old White.
Signs of the reemergence showed themselves in the fall of 1994. After losing its first five games, the club rallied to take six of its final seven games, finishing at .500 and taking third place in the Palmetto Union tournament. The Spring of 1995 saw more improvements as Old White, under the leadership of coach and captain Steve Yeager, finished with an overall record of 9-1 and 6-0 in the Palmetto Union. That summer, the Old White 7′s first side again qualified as one of the final eight teams in the Eastern Rugby Union playoffs.
It was the Fall of 1995, though, which signaled the return of Old White. With a final A-side regular season record of 11-1, and a second straight 6-0 tally within the Union, Old White was crowned Palmetto Union Champions after an exhausting 26-23 triple overtime victory over Hilton Head, SC. That win and the Championship earned Old White a #1 seed in the Division II National Championships.
But before the Nationals, Old White embarked on its fourth tour, this one to the beautiful countryside of Scotland. Luck was not with Old White once the Nationals resumed after the tour, bowing out early. But soon there after, Old White joined the Georgia Rugby Union Fall 1996, and took it by storm as well, winning the Georgia Rugby Union Championship as well as winning the Division II USA Rugby South Championships. This Championship earned Old White a trip to Chicago for the Division II Nationals Sweet 16. Old White fought with Wisconsin RFC back and fourth, and nearly succumbed a three try deficit late in the match, but fell short.
1998 looked very promising, after reaching the sweet 16, the team was set to top that and drive for a National Championship. After a great regular season, Old White walked into the South semi’s confident, but almost too confident. The results… a loss and early dismissal from the championships.
1999 was another great year for Old White as they became 1999 Division Champions and earned Old White a trip to Dallas for the Division II Nationals Sweet 16. Unfortunately Old White lost in the first round to Albany – New York. In the Fall of 2001, Old White RFC won the Georgia Championship again leading the league against Greenville, Nashville, Renegades and Hilton Head.
For 2 years, Atlanta OWRFC participated in up and coming USA Rugby South Division I competition. With both thrilling victories and tough losses, what Old White did not foresee was the changing of the guard. In 2003 and 2004, it was time for some of the older players who had brought the club so much success in the late 90’s to step down and let a new era of Old White rugby begin. Also in these 2 years, the players of Old White grew to miss perhaps the best and most important aspect of rugby – the social side of the game. With these factors combined, Old White decided that their grand entrance into Division I rugby should wait for a better opportunity.
Old White reemerged as a powerhouse and offensive juggernaut to be reckoned, repeatedly winning matches by 50 points or more, but alas, the ultimate prize proved elusive. A move to the next level was inevitable: Old White returned to Division I rugby and by 2009 found itself in familiar territory advancing to the Elite 8 in 2009. Success at the top was short lived as the geographic challenge of sustaining a D1 club in the USA South proved insurmountable.
Returning to DII presented an opportunity to rebuild and by 2011 Old White was in familiar territory with a 2011 reappearance in the playoffs but coming up against eventual national champion Tampa Bay Krewe meant an early exit. Buoyed by a rare early exit, Old White launched an impressive stretch of incremental victories, advancing further each year from 2013-2015 to the final 16, 8, and 4 respectively, culminating in a 2015 weekend that saw Old White defeat 2014 National Champion Rocky Gorge RFC only to fall just short to 2013 winner, Wisconsin RFC.
Poised to claim the prize in 2016, Old White embraces the honor of representing the South and fully intends to 4-peat and bring home the 2016 National Championship.