For many students, the fall semester at Bloomsburg University spells S-P-O-R-T-S, but for the Bloomsburg University Women’s Rugby and Football Club it spells R-U-G-B-Y. A month and a half into the semester and the team can be seen, rain or shine, on the upper campus intramural fields stretching, running, and doing passing and conditioning drills every weekday from 3 to 5 p.m..
Students playing softball or ultimate Frisbee on adjacent fields can often hear the ruggers yelling during practice, “with you, with you!” “green left, green green!” “on the fence!” and “crouch, touch, pause, ENGAGE,” which is more often than not, followed by the sounds of bodies hitting bodies and grunts of effort that escape through mouth guards.
Caitlyn Schuler, a vet, has been playing on the team for the past two years. “I saw the rugby table at the activities fair, and I wasn’t sure I would stick with it, but after a few practices, I loved it,” she said.
Earlier in the semester, while other students were still trying to remember what buildings their classes were in, team captains Carley Knappenberger and Lindsay Walker began planning for the upcoming season. “The hardest thing is trying to get everyone to come to practice at the same time,” Carley said, “but the easiest thing is throwing out ideas about how to improve, and getting feedback from the team.” Currently, the team has approximately 18 vets, or players who have played in the past, and six rookies, which are players new to the game.
Many people may watch a rugby match and think it’s nothing more than 30 crazy college students running around hitting each other. In reality, there are as many rules and regulations as any other college sport. The object of the game is that the two teams of 15 players, should by passing, carrying, kicking, and “grounding,” the ball, score as many points as possible in attempts to win the game.
The game of rugby is much like soccer and football combined: each team consists of two groups with forwards known as the Packs, or Packies; and the back line known as the Backs. The Packs are the players that you see in a scrum; which is a formation of eight Packies that crouch and hold their position against eight Packies from the other team after a penalty is called. The ball is rolled into the tunnel between the teams and the teams push against each other in attempts to gain possession of the ball. To score a try, worth five points, a player must ground the ball in the opponent’s try-zone, similar to the end zone in football. If they make the try, they can attempt to kick a conversion worth two points, which is like a field goal after a touchdown.
Like other sports, there are rules about how a player can tackle, how they can pass the ball, and there’s an offside rule similar to that of soccer, so in reality what looks like mass chaos to the casual observer is actually extremely organized and regulated game play. It isn’t always easy to catch on to the rules of rugby at first, but going to matches and talking to players about the game helps tremendously. “Watching can be confusing,” Knappenberger said, “playing the game is really when you learn the most,”
The sport of women’s Rugby in the USA began in 1987 when the USA Rugby Women’s National Team was officially formed. The “Eagles,” as they are called, won the first official World Cup in 1991, and placed second in the following two World Cups in 1994, and 1998. The Eagles set the standard for women’s rugby all over the country and they fired a growing interest in women’s rugby around the world.
The BU Women’s Rugby and Football Club was established in the fall semester of 1995. The original team had 28 members, and their first season consisted more of attempts at organization than actual games. With the assistance of the men’s team and the help of Ralph Schumaker who was previously an assistant coach for the Penn State University women’s rugby team, the new BU ruggers created the foundation of an amazing and successful team.
At BU, the women’s rugby team is not an NCAA division sport. Jess Kirk, a vet on the team, thinks that being classified as a varsity sport would make a big difference in the success of the team. “Our captains do a good job, but a coach who is dedicated and knows all the ins and outs of the game would be ideal.”
The team has been granted “club status,” and as such has to raise money by doing fundraisers to supplement the $2,600 per year given them by the CGA, which covers referee fees for home games, traveling expenses to away games, supplies for the medical kit, and publicity fees; such as the cost of printing flyers to recruit new rookies.
The BU ruggers are not allotted a coach, a personal trainer, or even enough funding for new equipment that might assist in furthering the team’s overall success. The $40 dues that members pay each semester cover any additional expenses the CGA money doesn’t. Schuler agrees with Kirk. “It would be awesome to have a coach and be recognized by the school and other students as a varsity sport,” she said.
Despite the team not being an NCAA sport at Bloomsburg, team members keep coming back semester after semester, “I love the rush and adrenaline,” Kirk said, “When you’re on the field nothing else matters but where the ball is and being there to help one of the girls out. You don’t feel the tackles, you don’t notice that you’re exhausted. There’s a game to be played.”
In 2002, women’s rugby was added to the U.S. NCAA Emerging Sports list. The purpose behind this addition is to elevate women’s participation in sports such as rowing, ice hockey, and rugby, and to encourage colleges across the nation to register rugby as a collegiate sport program.
In further attempts to bring attention to the game, USA Rugby and The Army National Guard have teamed up to support the sport. With The National Guard as a sponsor, USA Rugby hopes to bring more attention to the game. “This is great news for the sport of rugby in the U.S.,” USA Rugby’s Vice President of Business Development David Voth said.
In the spring semester 2008, the BU Women’s rugby team applied for a new kit sponsored by the National Guard College Kit Program, and was one of 300 teams that was chosen to receive one.
“There has never been a program this broad or far reaching in the history of collegiate rugby in the U.S. The National Guard is providing a tremendous service to the sport of rugby and deserves a great deal of gratitude,” USA Rugby’s CEO and President of Rugby Operations, Nigel Melville said. The only issue surrounding the awarded kit is that the BU ruggers have yet to receive all of it.
“It’s great that people are supporting women’s rugby, but we’re still missing pieces of the kit,” Kirk said, “a new kit is great, but it’s not the same as having the support of a state university.” According to the USA Rugby Web site, the kit, which is valued at thousands of dollars, includes jerseys, shorts, socks, protective headgear, flags, balls, post pads, practice cones, an equipment bag, field flags, training bibs, kicking tees, a coaching book, video, and a USA Rugby law book. The team has yet to receive the additional equipment besides jerseys, balls, socks, shorts, flags, and post pads. According to Lindsay Walker, backs captain, the BU team’s president received an email stating that USA Rugby called back the rest of the kit, because they were only concerned that the teams receive the jerseys.
Four games into the semester, and the team is keeping a positive outlook on the rest of the season, despite their recent losses to LaSalle University, and Temple University. “We’ve been getting in good work outs at practice, staying in shape, and playing our best in games. I think we can keep it up and finish off the semester as well as we started it,” Schuler said.
Currently, the BU ruggers have a record of 2-2, with victories against East Stroudsburg University, and Kutztown University. There are two games left in the regular season, against the University of Pennsylvania, October 18, and the University of Delaware, October 25. “We came so far since last season, after moving up a division,” Walker said, “We’re holding our own, competing seriously in this division.”
The BU ruggers are looking forward to getting back to practice after the reading weekend, and preparing for their upcoming game on Saturday against the University of Pennsylvania. “This bye weekend will have given our injured players who have been playing a chance to rest,” Walker said, “It’s awesome when you have a young team like we do. We have a solid core, and can hold our own.”