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John Jelaco


Sweeney Award


John Jelaco started his rugby career in 1973 for the Sacramento Capitols while playing semi-professional football for the then undefeated (11-0-1) Sacramento Statesman (1973-1978), the football club then later changed to the Sacramento Buffaloes of the California Football League. While playing rugby for the Capitols, John was later selected to play for the Valley representative side and then with the combined Northern California Pelicans representative side (1976-83).

In 1976, John joined the Bay Area Touring Side in San Francisco, more commonly known as the B.A.T.S rugby club. While playing for the BATS, he had the opportunity to play against several high level representative clubs throughout the world, traveling on the BATS tour to Russia, Italy, England and Wales in 1978. The BATS won numerous tournaments during John’s time with them, including two tournament titles at the prestigious Monterey Tournament with John being voted the tournament’s MVP when the BATS were victorious in 1983.

John went on the play for other select sides such as the California Poppies (1977-83) against Ponypool & Manawatu and was also selected as a US trialist for the Pacific Coast Grizzlies from 1978-1986.
John started out playing in the second row for the Grizzlies and Pelicans but in 1979, after the recommendation from then U.S. head coach Dennis Storer, he changed his position to that of tight head prop. While representing the Pacific Coast Grizzlies, John toured to New Zealand in 1984 and Argentina in 1986.

John also represented the U.S. Cougars that faced England in 1982 and represented the combined USA side called “America’s Team,” who played against the club champions of the 5 Nations and South Africa (The Military Defense) in South Africa.

In 1982, John played in two test matches for the United States Eagles. His debut was in a tie game against Canada in Albany, NY and his second cap coming against England the following week in Hartford, CT.

In 1984, John moved to Southern California where he joined a very strong Los Angeles Rugby Club team that made it to the United States Club Championship final in 1984, playing against the Dallas Harlequins led by former South African Springbok Naas Botha. John also played for the Southern California Griffins select side from 1984-86. John retired from Division I club rugby in 1986.

While at the 1987 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand John formed a mission statement and plan to build a Past-Eagles alumni group to develop and foster youth rugby throughout America. Shortly after his return from New Zealand, John founded the Eagles Alumni Players Association, known later as Team America, and today as the Classic Eagles.

The first tour was to the Mardi Gras tournament in Baton Rouge, LA in 1987. The following year, the Bermuda World Rugby Classic was created and John led as both the team captain (1986-94) and president (1986-2007) of the Team America/Classic Eagles to a successful start in Bermuda.

While continuing to play legends rugby, John was named manager of the U.S. 7s team in 1992 and held that role until the 1997 7s World Cup in Hong Kong, while winning its first ever placing in the World Cup as the Bowl Division winner.

In 1991 the Classic Eagles supported the first ever USA Woman’s Rugby World Cup event in Wales. The USA women won the title. The Classic Eagles then provided support for a combined collegiate all-star rugby team to Australia. The Classic Eagles also supported and organized the 1992 test match between the Eagles and Hong Kong, and Eagle evaluation camps. During this time, the Classic Eagles continued to provide support for developmental squads for both 15s and 7s to various tournaments to grow and foster younger players.

For his service to rugby and having been a capped player for the United States, John received the prestigious Craig Sweeney Award in 2007. He continues to support the game as first a Director and now a Trustee for the United States Rugby Foundation and provided support for the development of the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame.

John is actively involved with his church and enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife, Denise, and his daughter Leah Jelaco.