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2023 Hall of Fame Class Inducted

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2023 Hall of Fame Class Inducted

Every inductee gets one of these cool caps. Photo Wade Bricknell.

Saturday in Salt Lake City saw the 2023 class of the US Rugby Hall of Fame inducted at a gala event leading up to the USA vs Stade Toulousain game.

MC'd by USRF Director Brian Vizard the event was attended by a long list of Hall of Famers and former Eagles. As often happens at this event, a couple of inductees had large contingents of supporters in attendance to recognize their friend or mentor or teammate.

Special Awards

Craig Sweeney Award: Brian Hightower. The award is named after the highly-respected USA player who died from a heart attack while training after earning his fourth cap, and the award itself is given to a capped player who was respected by his peers and the rugby community and has made significant contributions to the game following a playing career, while showing to be a person of exemplary character. Hightower was a championship player for the Gentlemen of Aspen, played overseas, and played for the Eagles in 7s and 15s, including the 1997 7s World Cup and the 1999 15s World Cup. He went on to be a successful rugby broadcaster.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Dale Toohey. A longtime coach for Cal State Long Beach, the first Chair of the USARFU National Collegiate Committee, and served USA Rugby in a variety of technical and coaching roles. Though born in Australia, Dale Toohey spent almost his adult life dedicated to helping American rugby.

Chairman's Award: Dr. John Fowler. Capped by the USA in 15s and 7s, and selected for a World XV on two occasions, Fowler played for the Santa Monica and Cincinnati Wolfhounds rugby clubs. He received this award for his career as a physician and advocate for emergency medical preparedness. Much of his work has been in Turkey where he trained those who ran the rescue efforts after Turkey's devastating Marmara earthquake. He is a world expert in emergency medicine care.

2023 Hall of Fame Inductees

Roy Helu moved to the USA from Tonga, didn't know there was rugby in California, showed up at an Old Blues practice in the Bay Area, and led them to six national club championships, being named the MVP of the 1983 championship. He was capped 14 times for the USA (playing in another 20 non-cap games for the Eagles), including the 1987 Rugby World Cup. He became a hugely successful coach, and is one of the most respected backs of American rugby in the 1980s.

Bob Latham was a standout player for Stanford, UVA, and the Dallas Harlequins, but his biggest influence was as a Boardmember of USA Rugby and USA Rugby's representative with World Rugby and the USOPC. His work pushing for rugby to be in the Olympic Games is perhaps his strongest legacy.

Dr. Julia McCoy coached the USA women's 7s team twice, leading them to a 3rd-place finish in the inaugural 7s World Cup women's bracket. She developed modern High Performance techniques and camps before the words High Performance started to lose their meaning, and her innovative approach to teaching and coaching the game at a high level produced rugby stars. Capped by the Eagles in 7s, McCoy is a hugely respected neurologist. The fact that her American Rugby Pro Training Center was not embraced by USA Rugby as one of the core development organizations for women's 7s is one of the great failures of USA Rugby's High Performance efforts.

Mike Flanagan coached Towson State women, Loyola College Maryland, and then, for 27 years, the US Naval Academy. His work in promoting and developing the Navy men's rugby program can hardly be overstated. Navy won over 450 games with Flanagan at the helm, made 17 major national-level semifinals, and produced 47 All Americans. His work was crucial to the development of a now Varsity USNA program.

Chris O'Brien. A successful athlete at pretty much any sport he played, Chris O'Brien transitioned from a record-breaking placekicker at San Diego State to playing rugby at the same school. He was capped 22 times at flyhalf from 1988 to 1994 and toured all over the world. He also played 7s for the Eagles as well and is remembered as one of the very best US-produced flyhalves ever. He went on to coach at Cal, Stanford, Danville Oaks and, now, as Head Coach, at Cal Poly. 

Mike Petri is the greatest scrumhalf in USA history (or maybe second best depending on what you think of Mike Saunders). Smart, a brilliant defender, and a leader who captained every single team he played for, Petri was capped 57 times for the USA and appeared in three Rugby World Cups. He has authored a rugby-themed children's book, is a teacher, a coach, and now an athletic director at a school in New York City. Petri's induction speech was made early in the evening because he had to leave to prepare for his other job, as color commentator for the USA vs Stade Toulousain game. 

Peter Watson. Refereeing is the necessary evil perhaps of rugby but necessary it is. For American rugby refereeing doesn't just happen. It has to be build and rebuilt. Peter Watson has been at the center of that for decades. He chaired the Referees and Laws Committee for USA Rugby for 20 years and he has been at the forefront of training referees, mentoring referees, and communicating the laws in the game.