Rugby for a Good Cause: The Apple Pie 7s

Josias Sterling

Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, athletes gather in Fairmount Park to play rugby and honor the memory of a young man. 

Josias A. Sterling was a standout rugby player at St. Joe’s Prep and a rising star on the Temple University rugby team when he tragically lost his life at Ocean City, N.J. in July 2009. Sterling was pulled out to sea by a riptide while standing in knee-deep water tossing a rugby ball with a friend. He did not know how to swim. 

Sterling was at the shore for the annual Surfside Sevens tournament in Stone Harbor. The next day, his St. Joe's Prep team played one man short in his honor. The U-19 bracket of the Surfside Sevens would henceforth be called the Josias Sterling bracket

Honoring Josias, helping others 

That fall, the first Josias A. Sterling Memorial "Apple Pie" 7s Rugby Tournament was played in Philadelphia. Friends, former teammates and fans gathered to, as tournament organizer Bill Gregory put it that first year, “celebrate his life, have a happy day, and smash each other in the face.“

Players have been enthusiastically doing all three ever since—yet the tournament is much more than just a fun day of rugby. The Apple Pie 7s (named for Sterling’s favorite snack) raises money for the Josias A. Sterling Aquatic Education Program at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia. The program, an official local partner of the national Make A Splash initiative of the USA Swimming Foundation, teaches inner-city kids lifesaving swimming and water-safety skills. 

All donations and proceeds from the tournament go to fund free swimming lessons at the center. “This cause really means something. This cause has tangible results,” Gregory says.  

The Apple Pie 7's tournament takes place this year on Nov. 28 at Edgely Field in Fairmount Park. Teams are welcome to form up and sign up—this is not an invitational.  

The Philadelphia Whitemarsh Rugby Football Club (PWRFC) is recruiting players for a team. Contact Eric Miller at for more information or to sign up. 

Josias A. Sterling Foundation website »