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Claraence Culpepper


Sweeney Award


Clarence Culpepper was a linebacker on the Virginia Tech football team before he turned to rugby after graduating. Clarence struck up a conversation with a bartender at a Philadelphia watering hole. The barkeep, a member of the Philadelphia RFC, noticed the athletic build of his customer and convinced him that rugby would be the perfect sport for him. Clarence went out for the next training session and he and the bartender, George Betzler, who would go onto be a United States National Team head coach, would be teammates on the Philadelphia team for the next five years.

With just one year of rugby experience under his belt, Clarence started the Conestoga High School Rugby Club in 1971. He developed a number of talented players during his time at Conestoga, many joining the Philadelphia RFC. It was his first, but certainly not last, foray into coaching.

Although having only played the sport a short while, Clarence made the local Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union Select Side in 1971 and continued to be a member of the squad until 1974. He was also selected for the Eastern Rugby Union (ERU) All-Star squad beginning in 1971.

In 1974, he moved to Roanoke, VA and became player/coach for the Roanoke Rugby Club. Led by Clarence throughout the 1970s, the Roanoke RFC continually turned out representative players for the state, ERU and the U.S. National Team. Clarence continued to make representative sides, as he played for the Virginia Rugby Union Select Side from 1975-79 and was just about an automatic choice for the ERU until 1979.

Clarence played two matches for the United States National Team, the Eagles. He made his debut against an England XV at Twickenham in 1977. The following May he captained the United States to their first win of the modern era, as the Eagles defeated Canada 12-7 in Baltimore.

Clarence retired from playing altogether in the early 1980s. It was then that he devoted all his passion for rugby into coaching. He moved to New York in 1985 and coached both the Schenectady Reds and Albany Knicks during the 1985-86 seasons. He coached the Windhover RFC in 1987-88, then the Hartford Wanderers in 1989, before coaching the Chesapeake Rugby Club in Maryland in 1990.

On the representative level, Clarence coached the Virginia Rugby Union side in 1980-81, the North Carolina Rugby Union team and the ERU South in 1982-83, the ERU from 1983-89 and the Potomac Rugby Union in 1991.

In 1990, Clarence was also the first Eagle player to go on to coach the United States National Team as he coached the Eagles against Japan B on the Eagles 1990 Japan Tour.

For his long contributions to rugby in Virginia and the Philadelphia area, Clarence was enshrined as a member of both the Virginia Rugby Union and Philadelphia-Whitemarsh RFC’s Halls of Fame.