The HBCU Rugby Classic and Music Festival is the premier rugby event featuring the best HBCU Rugby teams while showcasing the combination of rugby tradition with the historically black college and university experience. The HBCU Rugby Classic is a cultural entertainment event, for sports fans and families of all ages, that puts a spotlight on community opportunity, empowerment, and positive messaging.
The HBCU Rugby Classic and Music Festival was started in 2018 in Baton Rouge, LA by the founder and director of the HBCU Rugby Classic, Gift Egbelu. A rugby player and rugby media hopeful who wanted to see more black people involved in rugby in an organic way. Gift believed that the culture that was established at Historically Black Colleges and Universities was something that rugby, in this era, needed to show the true diversity and impact that was preached in rugby. When he discovered that there were three active HBCU teams (Prairie View A&M, Morehouse College, and Florida A&M) that were in close proximity to Baton Rouge, it was a sign that the competition needed to happen.
In the vision Gift didn’t want the HBCU Rugby Classic to be considered just another rugby tournament on a list of hundreds of others, but for it to be considered a centralizing event that could be positioned as a centerpiece to bring HBCU and Black College teams together annually, but to be a place where the culture could comfortably present itself on a rugby stage. This led to the inclusion of various indie and up-and-coming musical artists from within the community who could present their talents and projects in front of an audience that connected with them and was unique to them. This would be where the Music Festival portion of the event would come together.
The first teams to ever play at the HBCU Rugby Classic were Prairie View A&M and Morehouse College to open the series. In 2019 the HBCU Rugby Classic and Music Festival decided to include high school teams in the competition. The first teams were Memphis Inner City Rugby, Baton Rouge Youth Rugby and New Orleans Barbarians. This provided a new opening for platforming schools with predominately black and brown players who might not have had an opportunity to play against people who looked like them.
In 2021, the first HBCU Rugby Women’s team, in Prairie View A&M, competed at the HBCU Rugby Classic and Music Festival.
In 2023, the HBCU Rugby Classic and Music Festival was hosted outside of Baton Rouge, LA for the first time. Invited by the Howard University Rugby Men, the HBCU Rugby Classic and Music Festival was hosted at Howard University in Washington DC. It not only featured Howard University rugby men and women at the HBCU Rugby Classic for the first time, but it was also the first time that the HBCU Rugby Classic and Music Festival was hosted on an HBCU campus.
Since the creation of the HBCU Rugby Classic there has been major movement in the rugby community for predominately black players and teams. The HBCU Rugby Classic has featured Black College teams from Morehouse College, Prairie View A&M, and Howard University, as well as non-HBCU rugby team, University of Maine Farmington. It featured club rugby teams in ROOTS Rugby and Baton Rouge Lagniappe Rugby. It has seen high school programs featured in Memphis Inner City Rugby, Dallas Youth Rugby, Baton Rouge Youth Rugby, New Orleans Barbarians, Cristo Rey of Philadelphia, and Withrow HS Rugby.
HBCU Rugby has continued to grow in support. Since kicking off the HBCU Rugby Classic, organizations such as, the James G. Robertson and Clive Sullivan Foundation, have become active in working to create new rugby programs. Rugby programs such as North Carolina A&T, Prairie View A&M Women, and Howard University have been activated. The future is continuing to look bright as new rugby teams are looking to be activated for 2024 and 2025 at Southern University, Tennessee State, Morgan State University and, Coppin State University.