Rugby was first introduced into the Maccabiah Games in 1985. The teams that participated in those games were Israel, USA, South Africa and Australia. The USA took home the Bronze medal. In 1989, the field was expanded and included Israel, USA, South Africa, Canada and Great Britain. The highlight of 1989 was tying South Africa in a thrilling match. The USA took home the Bronze medal. In 1993, rugby was gaining visibility within the Maccabiah Games and the field continued to expand by adding Argentina. The highlight of the 1993 was beating Great Britain in pool play and barely losing to South Africa in the final, 24-19. The USA took home the Silver medal.
After the inaugural Maccabiah rugby tournament in 1985, our leadership made a commitment to develop Maccabiah rugby into a national ongoing program. A massive recruitment effort was commenced together with a public relations effort involving articles in the secular and non-secular press, and Rugby magazine. In 1988, we entered a U-21 and senior team in The Battle of New Orleans tournament (then, a major fixture on the US rugby calendar). We did this three years in a row, culminating with a dramatic 20 – 0 win over the West senior All-Stars. This single match sent shock waves throughout USA rugby and literally put us on the map and into discussions within the national rugby community. During this developmental period, we also entered two teams in the Toronto Sevens Tournament (losing in the finals), and two teams in the Worcester Sevens Tournament, which we won. Dramatic efforts in recruiting resulted in open East and West coast tryout and final invitational tryouts in Chicago in 1988 and 1992. The total trialists swelled to 150 in each of these years. Selectors and coaches of the US Eagles (national team) became intimately involved with the team, and several national team players came to tryouts and joined the team. This momentum and respect earned within the rugby community led to an invitation to play in the annual Inter-Territorial All-Star tournament (ITTs) in Denver in May, 1993. It was used by the Maccabiah team as a tune-up for the 14th Maccabiah Games in July 1993. The ITTs was the event used by USA Rugby to select the US national team. The country was divided into four regions – East, Midwest, West and Pacific Coast. The four territorial teams were comprised of the very best rugby players in the USA. In 1993, the USA Maccabiah Team and the Combined Military Services All-Star teams were added to the ITTs.
So, the bar was raised and scope and standards of USA Maccabiah Rugby was very high when the torch was passed to new leadership for the 15th Maccabiah in 1997. By the 1997 Games, Maccabiah Rugby was becoming one of the premier events of the Maccabiah. The field expanded to eight teams by adding France and the return of Australia to the Games. The USA went undefeated through pool play and beat South Africa, 23-22 for the Gold Medal. This was the first time South Africa had ever lost at the Maccabiah Games..
2001 presented a challenge for USA Maccabiah Rugby and the Maccabiah overall. The Games were close to being cancelled due to security issues. Fortunately, the USA Rugby team supported the Games and we participated in one of the most emotional Maccabiah Games ever. However, most teams dropped out and only Israel, South Africa and USA participated. The USA lost to South Africa in the Final and won the Silver medal.
The 17th Maccabiah were held in 2005. This was one of our youngest teams ever. Once again, we lost to South Africa in the championship game……
The 18th Maccabiah Games were held in 2009 and this was our youngest team. This team only had two returning players from 2005 and had several players that were under 21. However, this team had the highest percentage of players that had played high school rugby. We also saw the return of Gary Puterman and Shawn Lipman to the team to provide some senior leadership. They were needed due to so many last minute injuries to players. Despite being a young team, they played hard and beat Israel for the Bronze Medal.
In 2009, various parts of the World Maccabiah Games were televised in the New York and Los Angeles areas, and in some other countries to a total global viewing audience of about 40 million people. Shawn Lipman and Gary Puterman were interviewed and featured in a TV segment. The two medal matches were televised live on Israeli TV (including USA vs. Israel for the Bronze medal, which the USA won convincingly). A TV highlights segment included several great plays by the US team.
In 2013 the US team raised the bar with the development of an Elite Training Squad coached by former Maccabi captain and USA Eagle Shawn Lipman and 2009 coach Greg Schor Haskin, a silver medalist at the 1997 Games. Players participated in professional level strength and training programs, culminating with them training under the US Navy Seals and a vigorous camp held at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. The team included US Eagles, Zack Test, Kevin Swiryn, Dallen Stanford, and professional Taylor Howden. Unfortunately Zack test injured himself the week prior to the tournament , while competing at the Sevens Rugby World Cup in Russia. The Vice Captain and Maccabi stalwart, Aaron Davis, broke his leg in the 20th minute of the first game against Canada and had to undergo surgery. Dallen Stanford was the captain of the side and led the team to the the Gold Medal in Rugby Sevens and the Bronze Medal in Fifteens. Stanford was also named the MVP of the sevens competition. This was the fourth time a US player was selected as tournament MVP at the Games and continued the streak of the USA having earned a medal at every Games held with rugby as an event….the only country to ever do so.
In 2017 the team built on the work that was done in preparation for the 2013 Games. The preparation included being identified as an elite feeder program by USA Rugby and players were required to try out by attending the US Rugby player identification combines. Two teams were then selected for participation at the Saranac Lake Tournament in Lake Placid. A select side was then selected to compete at the Aspen Ruggerfest in September 2016. The team camped in the pristine Marroon Bells area and made the semi finals having beaten the Denver Barbarians PRP side. The team then had it final assembly at the Las Vegas International tournament in February 2017. Having assembled more than any time in history, the team arrived in Israel already a team, culture in place, and the fittest ever. Captained by US International Kevin Swiryn and with head coach Shawn Lipman and Zack Test leading the coaching effort, the team was the most cohesive ever off the field but struggled earlier on to get any type of consistent rhythm. The team however beat all opponents in fifteens, beating Australia, Israel and Argentina on the way to the finals. South Africa was the heavily favored team having dispatched the same teams by over 150 points. In the finals everything clicked for the USA and with an amazing display of defense and remarkable team cohesiveness. The team beat South Africa 31-21 in a tough hard fought battle. Kevin Swiryn completed his remarkable playing career winning the gold medal. Chance Doyle was named the tournament MVP and maccabi legacy, Chase Schor Haskin, son of silver medalist player and former maccabi coach Gregg Schor Haskin, was named MVP of the final. Shawn Lipman became the first person ever to win a gold medal as a player and coach in rugby at the Games, with a final tally of 8 medals from seven Maccabiah Games. Zack Test was instrumental in helping guide the team as a coach to it’s second gold medal ever in fifteens. 20 years ago, the team won gold against South Africa. That year the team was captained by Shawn Lipman who was also the Flag Bearer for the entire USA delegation. 20 years later Zack Test was named Flag Bearer for the USA delegation with Kevin Swiryn as one of the two banner bearers, and Shawn Lipman as Head Coach. The team then went on to win the Gold Medal. This seems to be the sign for success at the Games for US Rugby.
To date, three Maccabi US rugby players, Shawn Lipman, Kevin Swiryn, and Zack Test have represented the United States at the Rugby World Cup held every four years, the sports biggest event. Zack Test is an Olympian having represented the USA at the Rio Games in 2016.
As one of the largest, elite competitions, the Maccabiah games has grown to more than 10,000 athletes from over 80 countries, competing every four years.