Jersey Shore Sharks Rugby Football Club

A Fractured History By Jimbo Steelman

Author’s note: As one of the original founders of the Jersey Shore Rugby Football Club I was asked to put together a brief history. I decided the best way was to do it in installments, as there seemed to be some very distinct chapters in the club’s history. This is the first. Since I am growing older and more senile, and have been whacked in the head more than a few times having played this sport for over 25 years [not to mention all the beer and herbal enhancement over the years], I apologize in advance for any errors, omissions and/or lapses in memory.

(Part 1, THE BEGINNING)

The seeds of what would become the Jersey Shore Rugby Football Club were first sown during the summer of 1986. Three members of the South Jersey RFC, Roger Howell, Bill Regotti and your ever-faithful narrator, became tired of the long trips to Cherry Hill and beyond for practices and matches and were considering rugby retirement. After the spring season, and before retirement, the 3 amigos and assorted other rugby riff-raff began practicing and playing touch rugby at the school field on the corner of 18th and Bay Avenue in Ocean City. The practices were to maintain some semblance of fitness for what would ostensibly be a last fling playing old boys rugby at the Can Am Tournament in Saranac Lake, NY.

The high public visibility of the practice field led to more than one wayward rugger to stop for a run and pint afterward. What became apparent was that there was a relatively decent sized rugby playing population, and others wanting to learn to play, living in the area. An epiphany smacked us in the head. Why not start a club at the shore? Through the weekly practices, which continued all summer, and word of mouth, the beginnings of Jersey Shore started to take shape. Enough so, that those that practiced through the summer and embarked on the fall season playing together as South Jersey’s C and sometimes B-side. Initial members included the 3 amigos, Mike Paul, Tom Nilon, Jeff Cohen, Jim “Pap test” Pappas and others. The season was so successful that a full time Jersey Shore club playing home matches at the shore became inevitable and the decision was made. “Let’s do it.”

The winter of 86/87 was the time for an all out recruitment and application to the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Football Union. First, a name had to be chosen. Since we were unsure of where we’d be able to call a home pitch, the general geographic name of Jersey Shore was decided on (as opposed to Atlantic City or Ocean City). Next decision: what to call ourselves, the Jersey Shore what’s? After careful consideration of many names such as the Boardwalk Wanderers and other shore themed names, the most fearsome predator of the ocean deep was chosen – the Sharks. Next on the agenda: colors for the new team kit. Since I was fronting a bit of the money navy blue and gray were chosen. The original jerseys, of which there are very few remaining, had a gray body with a shark patch, a navy blue collar and ½ “ navy and gray hoops on the sleeves. And, with navy shorts and navy socks with gray hoops, we were styling.

The recruitment at this time would provide the foundation for the Jersey Shore Sharks. Ads were placed in the Press and Sentinel Ledger. Recruitment parties were held. This yielded some experienced players in Billy Chafe, Kevin Rae (the ex captain of Blackthorn who had recently moved to Cape May Court House), Frankie McBride (recruited from Gold’s Gym in Somers Point and first mistaken for a prop), Chuck Giampietro, Bill Atack, Bill Silvestri (who had played with Jimbo in Phoenix, AZ and was unaware he was also living at the shore), John “one arm” Williams, Chuck “Upchuck” Crossin and some rugby neophytes such as the Sea Isle contingent (Joe LaRosa, Andy, Frank Edwardi and John Morrissey), Joe “Ensign” Parker (a mere tennis playing senior at Ocean City High at that time) , Mike (Reeb) Hardy and Tosselli Silvestri (Bill’s deaf younger brother). Most of this recruiting class went on to become the core players for JSRFC for many years to come.

The seminal match of the official (recognized by the EPRU) JSRFC was held at the Ocean City High School football field between 5th and 6th Streets adjacent the ocean. The opponent: Second City RFC, another first year club comprised of mostly ex Lighthorse and Media RFC members. Second City played tough but was no match for the Jersey Shore ¾ line. McBride and Cohen ran rampant as the Sharks racked up the first of many victories. The party was held at Gihooley’s in SP, which became our first official pub.

Club highlights of this time included:

Frank McBride and Jeff Cohen being picked to represent the EPRU Selects. Both Frank and Jeff were timed to be the 2 fastest players in the union.
Ensign Parker’s post match 18th birthday celebration (yes, even then he was sneaking into bars) at Gihooley’s when he drank 18 shots of whatever and lived to tell about it.
Naked bodies in Gihooley’s and getting kicked out despite Reeb being a bouncer there. Actually, getting kicked out of every bar in Margate became an achievement we’re still proud of.
Chuck Crossin’s wife and her 1-woman wet t-shirt contest after we played in the rain up in Saranac. She won, hands down. I think we did too. (The one rugby memory that will always be indelibly etched upon my brain.)
Opening our box of new jerseys and spotting team pictures in the Rugby Magazine packing material of the combined services teams (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard) only to notice that one of the coasty players was stationed in Cape May. After calling information the day before the first game we had a new number 8 that had played select side ball.
Tosselli screaming incoherently (remember he was deaf) at opposing players and trying to start fights.
Tosselli and John Morrissey wearing white shoes.
John Williams clubbing one of South Jersey’s players in the head with his stump at a home game against the Devils. The guy looked like Elephant Man at the bar, his head was so swollen.
JERSEY SHORE RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB A FRACTURED HISTORY
SUPPLEMENTAL
By Jimbo

(Author’s note: No, this is not the long awaited Part 2 Installment of the JSRFC. That will be coming relatively soon, I promise. With the upcoming alumni weekend extravaganza scheduled for July 15th, I thought it appropriate to pay respects to a few brothers that once donned the Shark jersey with pride but unfortunately have passed on and obviously won’t be lacing up the boots with the rest of us old and young Sharks. We’ll salute them properly soon. May they rest in peace. Again, I apologize in advance for any errors, omissions and/or lapses in memory.)

Lane Paul. Lane was a 50-year-old rookie prop that started playing in Jersey Shore’s formative years for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Lane’s son Mike Paul was one of the original Sharks and Lane watched and watched most of our early games. He finally said, “Fuck it, I want to play this game with my boy. It looks like fun.” Lane had been recently separated and was, like so many of us at that age, going through a midlife crisis. He wanted to party and party hard he did. And what better way to party than playing rugby and living the rugby life.

Lane had a fatal heart attack in a B-side match at the Tennessee Avenue Field in Ocean City. After having played the A side match, his son decided to also play the B side game as the hooker so he could give his dad advice. Tragically, yet almost fittingly, Lane died at mid-field with his boots on while supporting loose play.

Bill Atack. Bill was one of the club’s first locks, going some 6’5” and 250 lbs and strong as an ox. He hooked up with the team through Bill Regotti, Bill having worked with Atack’s dad. Bill had a relatively surly personality looking down on most of the teams off the field shenanigans. But, Bill would always look out for his mates on the pitch and be the first to engage in the necessary force to protect his fellow Sharks whether they deserved it or not. As mentioned in the team’s history, Part 1, it was Bill’s car that Ensign Parker puked all over at the Saranac Lake tournament. Bill’s wife was an even badder ass than Bill, which to the rest of the club, made the situation even more comical.

Bill suffered a brain aneurysm after a couple years with the club. He looked way gnarly after surgery and took up refereeing since his playing days were over. Bill passed away at his home a year or 2 after his surgery due to complications with his condition.

Beans and Weenies (John). Beans and Weenies, so named after he puked all over either his or Jay Driscoll’s car after a post game party at Maloney’s where the club supplied a feast of, you guessed it, beans and weenies. The car smelled of beans and weenies for months. I don’t even remember his last name since his club nickname was so ingrained in my brain. B&W came to the club as a green recruit and a friend of Jay Driscoll who Chuck Crossan had, in turn, recruited. John fell in love with the game, the camaraderie and partying. He played wing for a couple of seasons.

John passed away in a hunting accident in Pennsylvania.

Joachim. Joachim (Joachim, I apologize for not remembering your last name, but it’s been a long while) was Jersey Shore’s second recruit directly out of Ocean City High School (Joe Parker being the first). He actually recruited us having heard about rugby and wanting to play it despite having spent most of his lifetime in aquatic sports. Even though he lived in OC Joachim was a North Wildwood lifeguard during summer. He too fell in love with the game and played primarily in B-side matches as a wing and occasionally at fullback. His parents would always watch him play. He traveled to tournaments and pretty much stayed out of trouble, being the youngest guy on the team and ignoring the rest of us sickos. Joachim left Jersey Shore to attend college in Washington State.

Joachim passed away in a car v. bicycle accident at school. Joachim was the bike rider.

Tommy Nilon. Tommy was one of the original members of Jersey Shore Rugby (recruited by Roger) having played before we were officially recognized as a club in the EPRU. He was a knucklehead of the first degree. Whatever Tommy did, he did it at 100 miles per hour. He didn’t always do things correctly (like the time he plowed blindly into a maul with his head down, not even looking for the ball, and splitting my melon open giving me stitches and a scar that still reminds me of him every time I look in the mirror), but he did it hard. Tommy was a lean and mean flanker who played every game and every tournament that I can remember. (He had a couple hot sisters too that I think were too scared to ever come to a match.) Tommy drove from PA just to play for the Sharks, the only club he ever played for. One more Tommy anecdote: Tommy knew I liked hot and spicy foods and peppers in general. One day on his way to practice he stopped at a roadside farm market and asked for the hottest peppers they had. He produced them at our post practice drink-up and announced that the guy who sold them said they were the hottest peppers on the planet (they were habaneras), and no one would be able to eat one. I promptly plucked one out of his hand and ate it. What Tommy didn’t know was I didn’t chew it too much and pretty much swallowed it whole. I kept on talking and drinking and acting as natural as possible, but  I could tell it was bothering Tommy. He finally asked me, “You didn’t think that was too hot?” I told him no, it wasn’t hot at all and that he should try it to see for himself. He finally cut the remaining pepper into quarters, popped one in his mouth and started to chew. His eyes grew to the size of saucers and he grabbed the pitcher and chugged what was left. He was in major pain for over an hour, but it was the funniest moment I’ll remember about him. Tommy eventually became a top-notch flanker and was one of Jersey Shore’s all time greats.

Tommy passed away from a heart ailment while watching TV in his apartment. I believe he was in his early 40’s.

Next Installment: Jersey Shore Rugby, The Golden Years

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