Rudolph John Scholz, Jr. (“Rudy”) came into this world on June 17, 1896, in Kewanee, Illinois, following his brother by 5 years. His parents were German immigrants who came to America in the early 1880s. The family eventually moved to Medford, Oregon when Rudy was a teenager. This was the time he began to exhibit his emerging athleticism, playing sports at Mt. Angel Academy, a college prep boarding school.
Just prior to the start of his senior year (1913), the decision was made to accept a “scholarship” to Santa Clara University’s Preparatory School, the on-campus high school program. And while baseball was the basis for his free ride, Rudy quickly caught on to the challenges of rugby football, which the school had played since American football was abandoned in 1906. This was an era of few, if any, athletic eligibility standards, so the Varsity coach, in recognition of Rudy’s potential, put him on the school’s Varsity rugby team. This was also the year the New Zealand All Blacks toured the San Francisco Bay Area, including two matches against Santa Clara. Substitutes were allowed for these contests, so in the second half of both games “Scholz” (at 17) got an early introduction to the highest level of international rugby at wing. During his initial four years of college, Rudy lettered every year in baseball, rugby, and basketball (at 5’5 ¾”).
On January 20, 1918, an Army ROTC program was officially inaugurated at Santa Clara and the University became “a strictly military institution.” Rudy discovered a natural affinity for the military and rose to the highest student officer rank of Cadet Major. Rudy received his U.S. Army commission as a Second Lieutenant, Infantry, on August 26, 1918. Thus began an uninterrupted 30 year active military commitment (including active reserve) until his retirement as a Colonel in 1948. In June, 1918, Rudy was awarded Santa Clara’s prestigious Nobili Medal, established in 1876 for “the student who shall be deemed First in Morals, Obedience and Application to Study.”
Soon after receiving his military commission, Rudy reported to Camp Fremont, Menlo Park, for officer orientation training. His second duty assignment was to the 12th Infantry Regiment, Norfolk, Virginia, where he gained notoriety as a baseball and basketball player, coach and athletic director for his unit. Deactivated in April, 1919, Rudy returned to Santa Clara to complete his law degree courses and quarterback the University’s American football team.
When the U.S. Olympic Committee sanctioned a rugby team for the 1920 Olympic Games, Rudy joined a selected group of former rugby players in San Francisco to try to recapture dormant rugby skills. Surviving the final cut, he immediately joined the 21 other team members to raise the funds needed to get to New York because the USOC wasn’t about to fund a “lost cause.” The day before the team’s train departure from Oakland, he wrote in his diary: “Finished drive in afternoon – a thousand dollars over.”
The team’s surprising 8 – 0 gold medal victory over France (Rudy played wing) did not end the team’s rugby play as France insisted on a four game post-Olympic tour. Rudy pitched in to coordinate passports, side trips and write press release cables and letters for the team. He played scrum-half and wing during the tour, where a reduced squad of sixteen players won three out of four games.
Four years later, the task required to put together a team for the ’24 Games in Paris was more challenging, and more expensive. The old rugby skills were beyond dormant and the required funds had more than doubled. Nevertheless, at age 27, Rudy took an active organizing role as Secretary of the newly formed Northern California Rugby Association and, according to one newspaper account, was “in temporary charge of arrangements for the selection of a team.” Paradoxically, due to greatly increased press coverage, there was an increase in the competition for the 23 team slots, as current and former college American football players were eager to show how they could translate their skills to the English version. The selection committee waited until the very end of the tryouts to agree that Scholz still had his rugby smarts. Thus began a historic international sports adventure that has been well chronicled in Mark Ryan’s book “Try for the Gold” (www.tryforthegold.com).
After the ’24 Olympics, rugby took a timeout in the San Francisco area, giving Rudy some additional time to finally find his soul mate. He was visiting his mother in Santa Rosa in 1927 when he actually heard his future wife before he met her. He was attending Mass at St. Rose Catholic Church and Mildred Sophey was the choir’s soloist and, as the folklore has it, he just had to meet the person who could sing that well. They wed on January 22, 1928, and their lifelong union produced four sons and thirteen grandchildren. And Milly never lost her fabulous voice.
Back in 1921 Rudy had joined the San Francisco Olympic Club and when rugby returned in 1933 he played on, and briefly coached, their rugby team until 1943 (age 47). On active duty since February 1941, his promotion to Lt. Colonel required relocation from San Francisco’s Presidio to command the Army’s First Replacement Depot in Banning, California. In January, 1945, he was posted overseas to the Asiatic Pacific Theater as a member of General MacArthur’s Staff. Rudy saw intense combat action in the Okinawa invasion, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star.
On October 24, 1964, Rudy was elected into Santa Clara University’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Rudy’s passion for his favorite sport never waned, and in 1978 (age 82) he became President of the recently formed San Francisco over-40 rugby team, the Bald Eagles. This afforded him opportunities to put on his kit and get back onto the pitch during Monterey Rugby Tournament games and tours to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Rudy was laid to rest December 9, 1981, ending a grand life lived to the fullest.