Ray Cornbill believes “simple things done well” make a good rugby player great. This philosophy, and a lifetime of efforts on behalf of U.S. rugby, has brought him to the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame.
Cornbill was born in 1937 in Birmingham, England, the same city that Dennis Storer, one of the original inductees of the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame, was born. His rugby career began at age 11, at the famous “Public School,” King Edwards School. At 13, Cornbill’s family left England for Toronto, Canada. There was no high school rugby at York Memorial, so when Cornbill was 16 he joined the Toronto Barbarians men’s team.
Small compared to the rest of the Barbarians, Cornbill started out on the wing. Eventually though, he grew in stature and returned to his favored position, open-side flanker. After high school, Cornbill enrolled at the University of Toronto and became a fixture on the rugby team, while continuing to play for the Barbarians. He earned Ontario Provincial honors in 1960 and played in the 7 jersey against a touring Yawata team from Japan. Coincidentally, Keith Seaber, another of the original U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame inductees, was a selector for this Ontario team.
Cornbill played a total of seven years with the Toronto Barbarians before moving to Quebec in 1962. He hooked up with another Barbarians team there, this time the Montreal Barbarians. He played with the Barbarians from 1962-65, captaining the team in 1964 and helping them win two Eastern Canada Championships. Cornbill also played for the Quebec Provincial All-Stars in matches against Scotland, the Eastern Rugby Union, and Ontario. While playing, he also served as Secretary of the Quebec Rugby Union.
Cornbill moved to New York in 1965 and soon became player/coach of the Manhattan Rugby Football Club. He was named captain of the team in 1967, a position he held through 1969. In addition to captaining the side in league matches, Cornbill led them on tours to the Bahamas, in 1967, and South America in 1968. In 1967, he was awarded an Honorary Life Vice President of the Manhattan RFC.
Cornbill began coaching representative rugby and in 1970 coached the New York Metropolitan Union All-Stars to a narrow win over Fiji. That same year he became the head coach of the Manhattan RFC. He continued to climb the coaching ranks and in 1971 became the head coach of the Eastern Rugby Union representative side. Cornbill also coached the Eastern RFU U23s to a territorial championship.
Cornbill made the jump up to the United States National Team program in 1976. He was on a panel of four national team selectors from 1976-83. Additionally, he was an assistant coach for the U. S. National Team, the Eagles, in 1976, for their historic first international match, against Australia, in Anaheim, California, and head coach against France, in Chicago, Illinois in the Eagles second test.
In 1978 Cornbill was the head coach of the U.S. Cougars, an invitational all-star team that toured South Africa and Rhodesia.
He was head coach of the Eagles in 1979 for their match against Canada in Toronto. In 1980 he coached the Eagles in matches vs. New Zealand in San Diego, California, Wales B in Long Beach, California, and Canada in Saranac Lake, New York. In 1981, Cornbill was in charge when the Eagles faced Canada and South Africa. His last two matches as head coach of the Eagles were in 1982 against Canada in Calgary, and England in Hartford, Connecticut.
Cornbill continued to coach and in 1985 was named head coach of the USA Maccabiah team for the World Maccabiah Games played in Israel. The USA enjoyed such a successful run in the tournament, coming away with a bronze medal, that Cornbill was asked to coach the team again at the 1989 and 1993 Maccabiah Games.
Cornbill was an assistant coach for New York Old Blue in 1986, and served as their head coach from 1988-90. In the late 1990s, he was, once again, working with the U.S. National Team program. He served a two year stint as Convenor of Selectors, and served as an assistant coach for several matches and tours to Asia, the Pacific Islands, Canada, and the U.K.
From 2000-2002 Cornbill coached the USA All-Marines Corps team at the U.S. Inter-Services Competition. In 2009, Cornbill became involved with the Columbia University rugby team, first as an assistant, and then as head coach in 2012. He was also an assistant coach for the Atlantis 7s teams that toured Cuba in 2011 and Laos in 2013.
In July 2012, the University of Toronto created the Ray Cornbill Award, awarded to the U of T player who contributes the most to the club, both on and off the field. The first recipient was Dave Balcomb.
As of 2013, Cornbill has spent 60 consecutive years playing or coaching rugby.