John Ryan,Virginia Rugby Union Hall of Fame member

During John Ryan's last year at Dartmouth, he decided he needed to change his ways and prepare for a two year stint in the Army. John joined the Dartmouth Rugby Club, learned the fundamentals, and played briefly for the "B" squad. He had only the faintest notion of what he was doing but John liked the game and, even more, liked the people who were also out there playing in the mud.

John Ryan went into the Army and spent almost two years playing rugby before being discharged and accepted at the University of Virginia Law School. Other than the occasional game of touch football, there was little to relieve the unrelenting boredom of reading law books and listening to law professors. A Yale graduate, Jeff Savage and "Hawk" Walker and several other law students began talking about starting a Rugby Club and with Jeff and Hawk taking the lead they put together a rag-tag group, practiced and scheduled a match with the Baltimore Rugby Club. They all agreed to wear the same colored shirt, borrowed football cleats and managed to get whipped by the visitors. But, they caught rugby fever.

The next season the UVa law students came up with a schedule, some equipment and striped jerseys and in the Fall season actually had a win or two. "Steamboat" Porter, a Princeton graduate from Richmond, got wind of what was happening and drove to Charlottesville to join in a number of practices and provide a little coaching. Another gentleman, Jim Baktiar, who had been an All American Football player at U.Va. also wanted some exercise and decided to take up Rugby. He was rough around the edges but he was fast and a punishing runner. These club founders were optimistic and established the Commonwealth Cup to be awarded to the winner of a tournament in the Spring. In the first Cup, the field consisted of Yale, Notre Dame, Baltimore and U.Va. The first Commonwealth Cup was a great success.

In one of the final matches against Notre Dame, the ball popped out of a loose ruck and John Ryan managed to catch it and fall over the touch line scoring the try of the day. Notre Dame went on to win the Cup.

After graduating, John Ryan took a job with a small maritime law firm in Norfolk. John worked long hours in those days and, again, he missed some kind of serious physical activity. In 1964, they started working out with a rugby ball at the old Norfolk Academy grounds near Wards Corner. When they founders of Norfolk City RFC started, we had a contingent of Australian Navy men from NATO and some local ex-football players. A British navy Commander, Mike Martin, gave them some coaching and they put together some scrimmages with Richmond and Baltimore. The Australian players were pretty rough but good and they built up a bit of a reputation and drew some spectators. A wonderful guy by the name of Gideon Boissevain contributed some money and they all chipped in to buy jerseys and two or three balls.

They were soon joined by the Whitley brothers and Jimmy Warner from Norview. Jimmy, Kenny. Joel Whitley taught them what the term “salt of the earth” really means. Joel and Jimmy did everything from lining the field to bringing the lemons for the sidelines. Then along came the Owens, the Copelands and “Stump” Woods. John Pearson and Woody Barnes were a study in contrasts and Preston White became one of the best fly half’s in the state.

The team at one point or another included a Police Detective, a felon, two Cherokees, a preacher and an Assistant City Manager. One of the guys didn’t finish the season due to a gunshot wound. Another regular, Steve Cowper, went on to become the Governor of Alaska.