Houston Athletic Rugby Club Has A History Of Violence

Nicolas WilsonContributor IApril 30, 2010

The New and Improved Houston Athletic Rugby Club

In 1998, the Houston Athletic Rugby Club (HARC) was born. 

The club is the offspring of two former rivals, the Houston RFC and the Houston Old Boys RFC. Houston RFC was formed in 1969 by Nat Davis (formerly of the Olympic Club) and John Savage. 

Their colors were white red and black and their crest featured a Rooster. 

Jim Cornelius notably served as president of the club for 12 years before suffering a stroke shortly before the team's disappointing loss to Aspen in the 1996 Western Regional. 

The Houston Old Boys were formed in 1972 by William Sonvico and Lee Garner and their colors were blue and yellow. 

Two Old Boys played for the USA National team, Barry Waite (1978) and Skip Niebauer (who captained the Eagles in the early 1980s.) 

Other notable Old Boys include Johnny Brown, Brett Mill and Jim "Woflie" Wolfinger, who gave back to the game after their playing careers by helping grow the St. Thomas (Houston) High School Rugby Club into a nationally rated team. HARC holds an annual memorial 7s tournament in the summer in memory of former Old Boy Jaime Varano who died after suffering a tragic on field injury.

The merger's purpose was to create a stronger, more competitive club. After a successful early start, the club hit a low point in the mid 2000s. 

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In 2008, the club broke back unto the national scene with an appearance at the Western Rugby Championships. 

After defeating Boulder in their first game, the club lost to Aspen echoing their 1996 heartbreak. 

The next year, they made club history by sweeping the Austin Blacks in league play and making it to the national round of 16. 

On the first day they lost to the Las Vegas Blackjacks in an absolute mud bowl of a game. 

On the seco nd Day, the Olympic Club of San Francisco (former club of Houston RFC founder Nat Davis) defeated the club. 

2009 also marked the year that HARC gave the first and second XV a mascot to give both sides a more distinct identity. 

The first XV is referred to as the "Bulls," and the second XV as the "Fireants." 

The "Fireant" mascot commemorates the confusion of new foreign players to the club who take awhile to realize what is causing the mysterious hives and stinging on their bodies.

The Bulls are on the verge of being undefeated in league play in 2010. They hope to carry this momentum into the post-season but old foes in Colorado lie in wait. 


In 1969, Nat Davis (later to become President of Gerald Hines and currently found at the Houston Polo Club) figured his rugby days were over. He had returned to Houston after graduating from Notre Dame in 1964, where he had been captain of the rugby team, and after spending another four years in the Navy where he played for the Olympic Club in the Northern California Rugby Union.

One afternoon, however, while driving through Memorial Park he happened upon John Savage (a South African) who was practicing kicking a rugby ball. After trading experiences they decided that there might be more players interested in forming a team.

By the fall of 1969 they had located a handful of people and formed what was known as the Houston Rugby Football Club. At the time several clubs had also been formed at Rice University, Austin, Dallas, and Galveston. Some of the original Houston RFC members include: Nat Davis, John Savage, Sydney Gail Borden Tennant, Bill Sanvico, Lee Garner, Buck O’Gilvie, Kevin Gardner, Wayne Baxter, Alan Port and Chuck Ehrhardt.

In later years, the club was in the hands of Jim Cornelius. Jim was club President for more than 12 years until he had a stroke minutes prior to Houston RFC’s match in the first round of the 1996 Western Region Championships against Aspen. Jim, and his wife Cindy, still remain active in club activities and can be found at the pitch during most matches.

Houston underwent a series of changes in its appearance over the years. It was once believed that stripes made rugby players run faster and that myth prevailed from 1969 until the 1996-1997 season when the club moved to white jerseys with black collars and red numbers.

As legend has it, this came about after a well known Houston player was run down on a break away sprint by an Aspen rugger in the first round of the 1996 Western Region Championships. Houston was defeated in the match by the eventual National Champions and it was decided once and for all—stripes do not make you run faster.

Players continued to wear the traditional black shorts and black socks with white caps.

In 1972 Gail Tennant owned a house on Sage close to what is now the Galleria. In his backyard he liked to keep animals, especially chickens. At this time he was going through what some people referred to as his “French Period,” having just recently returned from a trip abroad. It was his idea to call the team “The Fighting Cocks” after the French national mascot—the rooster.

In his backyard was a Red Crested Black Polish rooster which served as the design for the Houston RFC crest. Although the logo stuck—the name did not.

At the beginning of the 1997-1998 Season, the Houston RFC crest was re-designed as part of Houston RFC’s change in image and direction.

Prior to the 1997-98 season it was decided that in order to become a more competitive club Houston RFC would have to travel outside of the Texas Rugby Union.

In September, 35 club members and players traveled to Chicago for a two-day road trip against The Indianapolis Rugby Football Club and the Super League’s Chicago Lions RFC. The first such trip in quite a while proved educational; one key learning was that Pub-Crawls should be limited to after match functions only.


The Houston Old Boys Rugby Football Club was founded on August 27, 1972 by Mr. William Sonvico and Mr. Lee Garner. Both men had long and illustrious careers in rugby, thereby giving a solid base of know-how and experience on which to build a successful rugby club.

Bill Sonvico, in his youth, played rugby in Argentina before moving to the United States and Houston. Lee Garner played his early rugby in St. Louis for the Ramblers, later for Old Blue of New York City and finally in Houston, where he met Bill Sonvico. Bill was a highly respected lock and Lee was a tough front row forward.

The name, Houston Old Boys, was chosen by Sonvico out of respect for his father who had previously formed a championship soccer club in Argentina. The name of his father’s club,The “Old Boys."

Bill Sonvico was elected the first President of the club, with Lee Garner elected the first coach. The Old Boys first captain and vice-captain were Jim Zettel and Glynn Morris, both coming from the defunct Nasa Bay Bombers RFC. In the club’s first year, coach Lee

Garner molded a championship caliber team with only a few players that had experience in rugby union. The 1972-1973 club won the Southern Division of the Texas Rugby Union and was a semi-finalist in the TRU Championship Tournament.

Over the years the Houston Old Boys RFC has enjoyed much success on the field. Frequent competitors in the Texas Rugby Union championships, TRU champions in 1977 and 1980.

The Old Boys were finalists in the 1980 Western RFU tournament and finished fourth in the West in 1993.

Former Old Boys players include two Eagles: Barry Waite (1978) and Skip Niebauer who captained the Eagles in the early ’80’s.

The Old Boys have had numerous players on the TRU and Western RFU select sides. As committed as the Old Boys are to competitive rugby on the pitch, they never neglected the social side, either.

The Old Boys are well respected for maintaining rugby’s off the field traditions. They were renowned host for touring sides and became a requisite fixture on the itineraries of clubs touring Texas.

Following a successful inception in the late ’90s the club established itself among the top clubs in the region.

Despite a good start the club failed to attract new talent and would have to go thru a rebuilding period during the mid-’00s. In 2008 the Men’s DI side claimed 4th place the West but fell just shy of reaching the USA Sweet 16 then in 2009 reached the Sweet 16 but fell to the eventual winners in the first round.

In 1989, a group of women decided to form another rugby team in Houston.

These ladies included former Houston Hearts, former Texas A&M players and women who had never had a chance to play rugby before. After a few games in 1989, they knew they needed a team name other than “that group from Houston”, so they chose the HERRICANES.

Many people saw the Houston Herricanes play in green jerseys and assume the team color was green. That is only half true. The Houston Herricane team colors were pink and green.

The selection of this combination comes from a sale at a rugby warehouse some years ago. It is believed an equipment distributor had several sets of jerseys made in Caribbean colors for the summer rugby season.

After the big push, the distributor was left with pink and green jerseys that he could not sell at full price. He reduced the price to fire sale costs. Being a newly formed team, the Herricanes leaped at the chance to get low cost, high quality jerseys, and had also selected the team colors.

The Herricanes have had success on the field as the TRU Champions and have represented the TRU at the Western Championships many times.

The Herricanes made their way to the National Championship in 1995 in the Plate Division. Many Herricanes players and alumni are West Select Side players and a few have been selected to the US Eagle Player Pools.

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