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By Kerri Heffernan, WRCRA Chair and Board Member, USWRF
"At 6:00 p.m. on a Monday evening 30 women gather on the sidelines of a turf field, they change into their cleats, laugh, talk and warm-up. Beyond the well-developed shoulders and powerful legs there is something else remarkable about the 30 women passing rugby balls. The majority of them are women of color; Black, Latina, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, with a sprinkling of white faces.
Many of the players were good high school athletes but only one played rugby in high school. Two of the most impressive players played no high school sports. Jamelle, the most devastating tackler on the team was a cheerleader in high school. When I chide her about cheerleading background she laughs and says, “I was the bottom of the human pyramid!” Some players speak to each other in Spanish others drop into a comfortable urban banter, they playfully trash talk each other and the coaches. This elite university rugby team is the place they are most comfortable. The team is their family.
I’m an old, white mom and tonight is the last time I will coach this team. I didn’t intend to become this involved, I thought I’d just help out with the program a few days a week, but 14 years later I’m standing on the sidelines with my heart breaking. I love these players and the scores of others who’ve come before them.
Not much has changed in the 35 years since I was a college player. The University has rarely done right by the team. The League has treated them poorly, almost every entity charged with creating the conditions for them to play has treated them like second-class citizens, yet every senior will stand at the banquet and say that playing rugby has been the highlight of her college experience.
Some will join club programs, some may play for national teams but the experience of being treated poorly will continue; it’s the water women players swim in. I can’t coach anymore but I can fight to change that future. That fight begins with finding other men and women who envision a different future for women’s rugby and working together to make change."
The Promising Future
In May of 2017 with support from Atavus, the USWRF hosted the Women’s Rugby Forum--50 female coaches, referees, administrators and journalists met for a day and half to create a vision for the future of women’s rugby. Listening to those 50 women speak I realized just how formidable we were when we worked together.
In twenty-four hours the women at the Forum created a vision statement: Ensuring that girls and women in the US can take equal part in and benefit from all aspects of the game of rugby. We agreed to create a Women’s Rugby Leadership Council and identified six priority areas for women. Participants signed up to work in these six areas and USWRF agreed to follow-up.
For weeks after the Forum we dutifully followed up on assigned tasks but realized that maintaining the energy and enthusiasm of the Forum was difficult. The Forum had been successful because it was participatory – attendees were asked to discuss, debate, think and work together. We had a vision, but what we needed was an organizational structure that brought women together virtually and in-person to work for shared goals.
So, in January of 2018 the US Women’s Rugby Foundation launched the Women’s Rugby Coaches and Referees Association (WRCRA), the professional membership association for women’s rugby. The WRCRA aspires to build a powerful, global community of women committed to the growth of the women’s game.
To reach that lofty goal we gathered the notes from the Forum; the voices of women in attendance and created several objectives, including developing strategies to ensure better access, exposure and financial resources for all levels of the women's game.
In the past few months we have been working to build a strong, diverse membership – men and women - committed to working toward the goals and objectives we defined at the Forum. This December we are holding our first annual conference. The gathering will be a meeting of hearts and minds – tapping into the skills, knowledge, talent, and tenacity of the men and women who make up the women’s rugby community.
By attending the conference and joining the WRCRA you can engage, connect and celebrate with colleagues across the globe. Together we can become the stewards of the game and use our collective voice to ensure that girls and women can take equal part in, and benefit from all aspects of the game of rugby. We got this…
The Women in Rugby Conference will be December 7,8 & 9 at Queens University, Charlotte, NC.
For more information: [email protected]