The DeGroot Trophy: Honoring an Olympic Icon | URugby | College Rugby and High School Rugby

The DeGroot Trophy: Honoring an Olympic Icon

The ACRC Bowl Series championship trophy is named in honor of Dudley DeGroot, a legendary coach, athlete and early ambassador of U.S. rugby overseas. 

Who was Dudley DeGroot?

Born in 1899 in Chicago, DeGroot was a standout athlete at Stanford University, competing in basketball, football, swimming, and water polo. He was Stanford’s first All-American in football under the tutelage of legendary coach Glenn "Pop" Warner.

DeGroot is best known as a college football coach for teams including San Jose State, Rochester and West Virginia. He compiled a career collegiate record of 117–67–9. He also coached the NFL’s Washington Redskins in 1944-45. 

A natural athlete and a scholar, DeGroot held a doctorate in education and was a recognized expert in ornithology. He died in 1970.

DeGroot, Rugby and Paris    

After graduating Stanford in 1922, DeGroot decided to play rugby and, in 1924, helped lead the U.S. National Team to a gold medal in Paris. It was the last time rugby would appear in the Olympics (the sevens version of the game returns in 2016), largely because of the riots that broke out after the Americans’ 17-3 defeat of host team France. 

DeGroot joined eight other Stanford athletes who answered the call in 1923 to assemble a U.S. team. It was expected the inexperienced Yanks would provide only token opposition in Paris; bookmakers placed the USA’s odds against France at 20-1. 

According to RugbyFootballHistory.Com, “The French national rugby team was one of the greatest ever assembled … By comparison, most of the American players hadn't touched a rugby ball until six months earlier.”

Instead of an easy victory, DeGroot and company handed the French a stunning defeat. The crowd, hostile to the Americans even before the match, attacked American spectators, threw rocks at the team and tried to storm the field. The U.S. players had to be escorted away under police protection. 

The victory was called America’s greatest achievement in international sport up to that time, yet the team returned home to little fanfare. Had the event occurred in the TV era, some believe it would have made rugby widely popular in the U.S. 

A Family Legacy

Eight decades after the triumph in Paris, DeGroot’s great-grandson, Zachary Withers, would pick up rugby as an undergraduate at Middlebury College—unaware of his great-grandfather’s connection to the game. 

After his mother remembered the connection, Withers proudly carried the captain’s strap DeGroot wore in the ’24 games, according to a 2011 article in Rugby Today

The DeGroot trophy honors rugby’s legacy, the connections forged across time and collegiate rugby’s prominent role in bringing a level of recognition in this country the sport has long deserved. The ACRC Bowl Series champion can hoist the cup knowing they are part of a noble tradition and helping point the way to a bright future.