By Men’s Team Historian: Brice Fritts
In the beginning, a struggling artist and former RMU athlete named Matthew DeBarr was commissioned to paint beer murals on the walls of Moon Pop and Beer, located across the street from the soon-to-be renamed Robert Morris College. While putting on his best Michelangelo impression, DeBarr stumbled upon a foreign object that looked like an over-inflated football lying in the storage room. He would take that ball to the owner and inquire of its strange shape and seemingly miraculous powers that it possessed. The next few weeks turned into story time at the beer store where the owner (Frank) handed down his fabled stories of a sport called rugby that was played by 15 brutish men. Frank had played for the Pittsburgh Harlequins, a local men’s club for several years.
Over the summer of 2002, plans were put in place to begin the team, with officers being selected and entrance into the Allegheny Rugby Union being finalized. Several players who were around during the summer practiced and played with the Harlequins to better understand their new game.
As the team began to practice together, which they did on the front lawn in front of the student center, they would begin to think of ideas for their very own team club nickname. Going on during this exact same time frame was the transition from college to university status and the big question on campus involved school logos. RMU had one logo, which was the letters surrounded by stars. There was no actual “Colonial” that went on athletic uniforms. The University transition brought a new logo: an RMU topped with the dome from the student center and “Colonials” underneath. This logo was placed on the basketball court and all athletic apparel. The football helmets, instead of having a person on it, would have a dome.
The student paper, Chalk Talk, said it made us look like the “fighting student centers.” No one in the athletic community liked the fact that the official school logo was the athletic logo as well. In recent years, this has been changed because there was no athletic identity.
So at one practice, when the subject came up, Clint Prosperi made the comment that they “put the dome on everything, so why don’t we just call ourselves the ‘Domers’?” And the name stuck. It was a knock on the official school logo, which suited everyone just fine.
The first game was a big one, which would determine if Robert Morris played in the Division 2 or 3 bracket of the ARU. This matchup was against Pitt-Johnstown. The Domers traveled to Johnstown for the match in a business like fashion. Chip Lenzi and Mark Connelly coached the team that year. Chris Tully and Brice Fritts shared the captain duties for that fall season
Though a close score in the first half, the game quickly changed in the second and the nail in the coffin for UPJ became the knowledge the Domers had obtained while playing with the Pittsburgh Harlequins the previous summer. With the game starting to slip away, a penalty kick for touch turned the game into a route because the Farm Apes failed to run down the field as they lacked the know-how of our youngest, but most experienced player Dave Zelewski, who sprinted down to pass the ball in (without a lineout being set) to Brice Fritts who ran down after him and scored a try, untouched.
Tully would later set up for a drop kick from 20 meters out that took the wind out of the Farm Ape’s sails for good that day and the Domers never looked back, trouncing UPJ 41-20 in their inaugural game.
Click here for an extended version of the men’s history.
By Women’s Team Coach: Angela Smarto
After the successful establishment of the men’s team on campus interest spurred with students about starting a sister team for the female student population. This was spearheaded by a small group of women who were dedicated to playing rugby wearing red, white, and blue. In the fall of 2013, they first approached current RMU Coach Shawn Crago to coach them as well. A busy local businessman and father instead sent a request out back to his former club: the Pittsburgh Rugby Club home of the Angels. The Angels is where the city’s best women’s rugby players have played since the 1980’s so he figured one of them might be interested in coaching.
After an email blast to current and former Angels, the girls received a phone call from current Angel and soon to be head coach Angela Smarto. Smarto was a rugby lifer and was transitioning jobs and had some free time to fill so she volunteered to start running practices. Over a few weeks about 8 girls showed up and learned the basics, but for 7 brand new players and 1 high school player they needed some game experience. They set up a B side scrimmage with Slippery Rock; we traveled up there with seven girls, borrowed a few more players then played against Slippery Rock to which Smarto reffed to save everyone some money. After that first match the girls were hooked and a long process of recruitment began to start a club.
Over the course of the next few years our family has grown. Smarto has grown her coaching staff to four: Caitlin “Kuno”, Karen Whitney, and Kyle Porter who all bring their own unique background and coaching style to the table. The group is goofy but passionate about giving the team the tools to become better rugby players and have a fun laughs along the way. The coaches are committed to giving all RMU Women’s rugby players the same joy in the game that we have all found, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.