Victor R. Hilarov
Vic Hilarov was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 26, 1932, to immigrant parents. He’s the son of a Costa Rican mother and a Russian father. He had a brother and sister, both of whom died in their 20s. Hilarov attended Evanston High School, just north of Chicago, where he played football, baseball, track and tennis. After high school, he attended the University of Wisconsin and graduated with advanced degrees. He then served as a medical liaison officer during the Korean Conflict. He was assigned to the Far East Command and was stationed in Tokyo, Japan, where he worked out of the Headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of the Allied Forces during WW II. In Hilarov’s time in Japan, the building had become the 406th Medical General Laboratory.
By day he supervised an all-Japanese laboratory staff and by night he taught English to college students and business executives. During the weekends he divided his time between traveling with his Japanese friends and running for the Army track team in events throughout Japan.
Returning to the University of Wisconsin as an Instructor, Hilarov received a fellowship to attend the Université de Paris, to do research for his PhD in Comparative Literature. It was here that he was introduced to the sport of rugby, playing for the Paris University Club (le PUC). The introduction was fortuitous because the sport of rugby became an intrinsic part of his life.
Thanks to his new-found passion for rugby, Hilarov was determined to increase awareness of the sport in Wisconsin. In the spring of 1961, Hilarov and a team of University of Wisconsin athletes played the first game of rugby in the Midwest against a club from the University of Notre Dame. Wisconsin lost that first match when fullback, Jim Bakken, missed two penalty kicks from close range. This detail is significant only because Bakken went on to play a record 234 consecutive NFL games for the St. Louis Cardinals, making a record 7 field goals in one game in 1967.
The following fall of 1962 Hilarov founded the Wisconsin Rugby Club. He was president and captain of the team and with his English friend, Mike Frost, who played at Cambridge and the RAF, hunted out football players, track stars, and British ex-patriot rugby players on campus. He and Mike would travel on weekends to encourage other Big Ten Universities and city clubs to form teams and increase competition in the Midwest. Universities at Indiana, Illinois, Chicago and Chicago City (later the Chicago Lions) along with Notre Dame, Palmer College and Minnesota RFU would form the core of Wisconsin’s opponents.
In 1964 Hilarov founded the first Midwest Rugby Tournament in Chicago and in 1965 played with his Wisconsin team against Illinois at halftime of a Green Bay Packer game in Milwaukee.
Deciding that academics were too quiet, Hilarov moved on from the University of Wisconsin and started a series of successful travel companies. There was, however, always time for rugby. He founded the Milwaukee Rugby Football Club in 1967 and captained the side in their early years. The club would go on to be one of the top teams in the Midwest during the 70s and 80s and were crowned National Champions in 1985 and runners-up in 1988.
While Hilarov was respected off the playing field for his organizational skills and vision, he was also respected on the pitch for his powerful running, tackling prowess and a formidable right leg that could make conversions, penalties and drop goals from anywhere inside the halfway line.
Hilarov was a founding member and the first president of both the Midwest Rugby Football Union in 1964 and the United States of America Rugby Football Union (USARFU) in 1975. As USARFU President, Hilarov created the Inter-Territorial Tournament (ITTs) in 1976, which for years was used as the selection vehicle for the United States National Team, the Eagles. The Eagles would play their first four test matches during his term as President. With no money in the USARFU treasury, Hilarov was able to secure a six-figure sponsorship with Budweiser. This allowed the Union to pay for the ITTs and the first Eagle team to assemble in California to play against Australia.
On July 8, 1976, Hilarov represented the sport of rugby at a U.S. Bicentennial Dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth II. Also in attendance were President and Betty Ford, Bob and Dolores Hope, Elizabeth Taylor and Secretary of the Navy, John Warner (later Taylor’s husband), Nelson and Happy Rockefeller, Muhammad Ali, along with diplomats, business leaders and other celebrities.
In 2006 the USA Rugby Board disbanded itself in order to create an independent Board of Directors made up of prominent business executives. There were 94 applicants from around the world and Hilarov was one of six chosen by a separate group of professional headhunters.
Hilarov’s professional life saw him travel the world as the head of several travel and management consulting companies. His clients were countries such as Japan, Canada and South Africa and major cities such as Cape Town, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Chicago and Minneapolis.
During his travel years Hilarov served as the Wisconsin President of American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), and Midwest Chairman of ASTA’s ethics committee. In addition, he was a Congressional Committee Board Member in Washington DC, and a Board Member for New York City Performing Arts groups from 2000-2012.
From 1990 to 1993 Hilarov lived on and off in South Africa to create a national professional basketball league in a sport that was unknown in South Africa except for four private clubs in the country. Hilarov hired a "commissioner", sold franchises and built scores of outdoor basketball courts, from abandoned tennis courts, in the townships. Today, 20 years later, thousands of kids and adults play basketball and a basketball league flourishes.
Hilarov continues to work on projects as a management consultant but during the last 13 years he created a second job where he researches, plans and escorts business relevant “adventures” for an international organization of CEOs to countries such as Cuba (twice), South Africa, China, Australia/New Zealand, India/Nepal/Tibet, Egypt/Oman/Dubai/Qatar, Vietnam/Cambodia/South Korea, Brazil and in 2013, Eastern Europe to the Czech Republic/Poland/Hungary.
Hilarov’s wife, Michele, died of cancer in 2004. As a lasting tribute to her, Hilarov travels internationally with his two daughters, two sons-in-law and seven grandchildren for two weeks every June to Costa Rica, Russia, Germany, South Africa, China, Morocco, Italy, Switzerland, England and France. Hilarov continues to golf, lift weights and play racquetball. He has stopped his 35 years of running, 1,000 to 1,500 miles per year, because of a replaced right knee in 2013. Knee replacement requires that running is no longer an option, however, Hilarov vows he’ll run again.
Hilarov hasn’t played rugby since ‘77 but his memories of this great sport and of his band of brothers will never be forgotten.