For some of us college was a time for trying new things. Some of us came out, dated some good people and some bad ones. Some of us got really bad haircuts from our roommates because it seemed like a good idea at the time and will wish we could burn all the pictures. Some of us didn’t know where we fit into this new, larger world full of people we had never seen before. I was lucky enough to enter college with a group of people, my teammates, who were required to like me (or at least to tolerate my existence). For some of my friends, finding their own group was more difficult until they found the home of many lady-loving ladies; the rugby pitch.
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College is often the first place women are introduced to rugby. High school rugby certainly exists around the county but it is not as prevalent as other sports like soccer or basketball. The first rugby game I ever saw was a mess of confusion as I tried to figure out why those two players are hoisting that girl in the air by her shorts, or why everyone is huddled together and then ramming into one another? Rugby teams, by virtue of the fact that most everyone is a rookie, become places where women of all abilities are welcomed and taught the game by both coaches and by older, more experienced players. This teaching and learning process forges bonds within a team that are not necessarily present in other varsity sports. My rugby playing friends have made friendships through the sport that have lasted over the passage of years due, at least in part, to the tight bonds created during practices, games, and of course at rugby social events.
Rugby has to be one of the most unlikely lifelong sports. When you think of sports you can play for a long time you might think of golf, or tennis, or bocce; something that does not involve cracking your body against a whole bunch of other people for an hour or two at a time. But rugby, rough as it is, is a sport that doesn’t end at graduation. A good friend of mine has played rugby in different cities around the country since she graduated from college a decade ago. While she was doing research and prepping for medical school, she played on a team in Boston. When she went to medical school in Albany, she found another team to join. Now that she’s an orthopedic surgery resident in Ohio, she’s found a third team. In each place, she has found a both a team to play on, and with it a group of women with whom to socialize.
It’s impossible to talk about rugby without talking about the culture of drinking that surrounds it. For many years a keg was as much a staple of the sidelines as benches. You can’t divorce the game, in college or afterward, from its drinking and socializing culture. Without glossing over the harm that can be caused by too much drinking no matter where it occurs, the socializing (with or without alcohol) that happens in rugby is one of its best parts. I was amazed that one of my housemates in college would spend a couple hours knocking her head against a woman on the other team only to meet up with her later to sing songs, to drink beer, and to be merry for a few hours before one of the teams would depart for home. I’m jealous that wherever my friend goes after her medical training is finished, she will find another team, and another group of women with whom she will become friends. As we get older and move farther from college it becomes harder to forge these connections, to find friends who like the things you do, who laugh at the same things, and who enjoy the same activities. It’s incredible that for so many people, rugby provides a family no matter where they roam.
If college is the place rugby starts for most women, it seems like the perfect place for fans to start, too. The Women’s College Championships start the weekend of April 21-22. The tournament kicks off with matches in four locations around the country. The first round games will be hosted by Princeton University, University of South Alabama, The Ohio State University, and Stanford University. The semifinal and championship games will be held at Stanford University on May 11-12.
For those who would like to find your own club team, check out USA Rugby to find a team in your area. So, what do you think, are you going to check out the college championships? Are you going to join a team of your own or do you already play on a team?