A. Jon Prusmack, a successful entrepreneur of many companies, and the respected and admired owner of United World Sports (USA Sevens, Collegiate Rugby Championship, Rhino Rugby USA, and Rugby Today), died on Friday. He was 77.
He had battled cancer for many years.
He is survived by his wife, Patrice.
It is a sad day for worldwide rugby to lose this innovative visionary, who, for more than fifty-years devoted his life to expand rugby in the USA, a sport that he played and loved. From 1968 when he published the first Scrumdown magazine, to building the USA Sevens and to the concept of Super 7s Rugby professional league, he endeavored to pioneer commercial models in original, American operated rugby businesses.
Prusmack’s rugby career started out with Westchester RFC in the mid -1960s at a time when rugby flourished in New York City with five local clubs (New York RFC, Old Blue RFC, Manhattan RFC, Old Maroon RFC, and Westchester) organizing multiple sides weekly. Then in 1973, he performed double duty playing two matches per week during the New York Athletic Club’s introductory rugby season. He would go on to coach and referee for many years.
In 1975, he launched Scrumdown in newsprint, and, that year, hired Ed Hagerty to become Editor while retaining the Publisher role. The publication changed its name to Rugby in 1976, becoming the singular and official voice of US rugby news and information, and, importantly, connecting the American rugby community. Prusmack and Hagerty were elected to the US Rugby Hall of Fame in 2013 for their decades of media contribution.
In 1979, he wrote Rugby: A Guide for Players, Coaches, and Spectators, the first book about the sport published in the United States.
In the early 1980s, he wanted to try a different business from years of commercial graphic design. A Westchester club teammate offered the export sales rights to the Middle East for a hospital disposable pack company. Finally, after six futile months he scheduled a sales call with a distributor in Saudi Arabia. At a hotel cocktail lounge in Riyadh, he met two British businessmen where the conversation turned to rugby. Prusmack always credited the serendipitous bond with these rugbymen who provided savvy cultural advice about doing business in an Arab country. The disposable business sales grew incrementally, expanding into a full line of medical procedure trays.
Many years later, this Saudi distributor would ask Prusmack the one question that would change his life. “Can you create a field hospital for our annual haj for the many millions of pilgrims who come to Mecca?” The available tents at that time were old, bulky, and time consuming to erect.
He decided to create a new tent model. With a vital suggestion about support struts from his wife Patti, also a graphic designer, he designed a prototype of the world’s first, quick to assemble shelter tent, which required no tools to set up.
Founded in 1986, the company was named Deployable Hospital Systems. Later, it changed to D.R.A. Shelter (DRASH) as its field applications expanded beyond medical services to command and control functions. It took almost a decade to turn a profit, eventually, generating sales of over $150 million annually. Prusmack never faltered in his belief that hard work and dedication to a creative idea would lead to success.
DRASH employed 300 employees, the second highest manufacturing total in Rockland County, New York. The company operated sales, support, and training offices throughout the country, and many international offices.
With the success of a thriving and highly profitable military shelter business, Prusmack offered significant financial gifts to the rugby programs at West Point and Annapolis. He provided a pitch – Warrior Field – to the Army’s new rugby facility in 2007. At his alma mater, the Naval Academy in 2016, he funded the Prusmack Rugby Complex that features two parallel fields with back to back bleacher stands.
Prusmack realized an opportunity to return to a rugby-oriented business venture when the USA Rugby Organization decided to sell the ownership to the USA Sevens. He bought the rights in 2005 and moved the tournament from Los Angeles to San Diego in 2007. He also bought back total ownership in Rugby magazine, and mounted ERugbyNews.com, an online rugby publication. (Currently, www.RugbyToday.com). The new rugby entity was called United World Sports (UWS).
The World Rugby HSBC sponsored USA 7s moved to Las Vegas in 2009 where it proved a financial success story, attracting many thousands of fans. The Las Vegas tournament will celebrate its tenth anniversary in early March 2019.
Prusmack had a vision that college rugby would be the pathway for successful national teams. He invested in the creation of a new event to showcase college sevens in 2010. This is now named the Penn Mutual Insurance Collegiate Rugby Championship, or CRC. The tournament found a home outside Philadelphia where it’s played every June. Many present and past USA 7s Eagles premiered publicly at this televised event.
The burgeoning interest in sevens rugby paraded the USA’s Men and Women’s stars at the USA Sevens and at the CRC, making, rugby the fastest growing team sport in the United States. Another reason for the increase in players nationally is that Prusmack spearheaded putting rugby on national television, first with NBC and now ESPN
Prusmack was voted into the NYAC Rugby Hall of Fame and the US Naval Academy Rugby Hall of Fame.
Academically, he transferred from the Naval Academy to New York University where he received a BA degree in Art and Mathematics. He was voted most valuable player on the NYU football team. Later, he earned two MS Degrees in Engineering from Polytechnic University in New York. He also holds an MBA from Bernard Baruch Graduate School of Business.
Prusmack served as a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Small Business Council, the Rockland County Economic Development Corporation, and was on the Board of Trustees for Dominican College, New York. The university named its new Health and Science Education Center the Prusmack Center in recognition of the significant donation from the Prusmacks.
He was named a member of the Business Institute’s Excellence Hall of Fame in December 2015. In January 2016, he was the Hall of Fame’s inaugural member and he was inducted on February 19, 2016.
Prusmack was an accomplished painter and printmaker. His early football-to-rugby posters have been sold for years in Rugby Magazine. He was Treasurer of the Salmagundi Club, one of the oldest and most prestigious art institutions in New York City, dating back to 1871. Art remained his hobby and passion.
An associate said of Prusmack, “He created canvases of business in his mind.” He embodied the true entrepreneurial spirit, generously seeding projects with investment and advice. He will be remembered as a gentleman, affable and kind, who always exuded optimism.
The American rugby community has lost a good friend who embodied the love of the game. It is a truism that he was responsible for rugby’s newfound popularity. All who knew A. Jon Prusmack will conduct a memorial service in their hearts and this tribute will last forever.