This page will speak to our history, heritage, and success – measured equally in the overall positive experience and in the results.  The quote below is a perfect introduction to what is really important and forever impactful with Highlander Rugby:

“Rugby gives back and I take great pleasure in being associated with my fellow coaches and the players…our most important achievement is that we are an exceptional team and club because of the huge contributions from players, families, and former players on and off the field.  The rewards don’t come by scoring tries or kicking goals, they come from being around great people.  Without great people, we could not develop great teams.”

– Coach John Smith


How the Highlanders Started:

It was an unusual seminar. About 30 students braved chilly winds to attend a demonstration of rugby skills during International Day at East Chapel Hill High School in the fall of 2003. The Eno River Women’s Rugby Team, under the leadership of Coach Robert Joseph, and some players from the University of North Carolina men’s club team provided the students with an exhibition of the game.

Afterwards, many expressed interest in forming a club team at East Chapel Hill High School. Robert Joseph, assisted by Robert Futch, and supported by students  Iain Joseph, Jackson Paterno, and Adam Graham, set about forming a rugby club. The club name was suggested by student Shaun Blanchard. And so, in November 2003, Highlanders Rugby was born.

The first ever Highlanders game was played on Sunday March 1st 2004 against Southern Pines away.

The Highlanders “Originals” are: (Back Row) Chris Pugliese, Steven Frost, Adam Graham, Robert Joseph (Coach and referee that day), Travis Harrison, Chris Kufopolous, Jackson Paterno; (Front Row) Kyle Freedman, John Beasley, Iain Joseph, Jeff Hoffman, Thomas Clapp, Karan Gupta, Philip Moser. (p.s. Southern Pines won 10-0.  Note the snow and the wobbly posts.)

In their first season, the Highlanders exceeded all their goals in establishing a strong rugby program. Reaching the North Carolina State Championship final was a highlight.

Through the ensuing years, the Highlanders Rugby Club has expanded to include boys from high schools throughout the Chapel Hill area. With great heart and coaching, the team has weathered losses and celebrated victories, won championships, and sent players on to compete at national and international levels.

Each year, our numbers increase as we watch our boys develop and mature as players and citizens. Their passion for the game and team has been demonstrated time and again through their hard work, determination, and enjoyment—experiences they will carry with them throughout their lives.

More than the result:

In rugby, the result is the result.  The Highlanders have had overwhelming and numerous high marks over the years.  But sometimes, as in any sport, the result may not be in the form of perceived success, a favorable and victorious final score.

Yes, rugby recognizes results as fact, but rugby also celebrates the most important aspects of the sporting (perhaps life) experience:


At the 2008 USA Rugby South Championships, the club played a brilliant match against an outstanding opponent.  The result was the result.  But, so much more happened on the day.

“the Highlanders played electrifying rugby from this point on, dissecting their opponents’ tightly orchestrated passing game and keeping play in the Jesuit Blue Jay’s end.  The boys were winning line-outs and scrums and playing with smoldering intensity torn straight from Homer…The two teams would have at each other for another few minutes, every muscle twitch full of fire; every blow shaking the very earth.  But the whistle would sound with the scoreboard reading 12-14 and the Jesuit Blue Jays moving on to the final game.

As a spectator of many years, I have never before seen a sporting event at any level played with greater passion.  As a teacher of young people, I cannot recall another group of them functioning together so selflessly in pursuit of a common goal.  As a father, I cannot imagine having greater pride in these lion-hearted sons.

These young men are truly champions today.”

– Tom Kepler, parent.

And so goes this incredible sport – rugby – played all over the world.