Last year, when Houdah Daniels (’20) stepped onto the pitch for a competitive Grade 7 rugby game vs. ACS Cobham, it marked the first time a girl played rugby on a middle school team that was only boys in years prior.
Despite what rugby coach Ross called “several years of interest” in girls playing rugby, this will be the first time for a full-girls rugby after school program. Entering Grade 8, Daniels, alongside 12 other girls, ranging from Grades 5-8, will participate.
Every Wednesday the girls will play tag rugby at Primrose Hill, introducing them to the fundamentals of the game. Similar to many recently founded programs, longevity is not promised. Continuing the program until October remains the only guarantee.
Although the group won’t start with contact, Ross believes there’s a “50-50 chance” the program progresses to that stage this year. “It’s an adaptable program, so if we get halfway through the season and we feel as a group that we’re ready to do physical contact then that’s something we’ll consider,” he said.
Assistant Athletic Director Heidi McCune, however, remains hesitant on committing to contact because of the potential of it inducing more injuries. Possible injuries loom large when considering advancing to a competitive team. “We couldn’t throw a brand new group of girls who have played tag rugby into a normal U13 game to play a girls team that has been playing contact rugby and playing it their whole lives,” McCune said.
Interest is likely the most important factor; if no girls want to play there is no need for a team, but should a considerable group express a desire to play, allowing them to do so would be a priority for the Athletics Department. “We want to offer what kids want to play. So if we have 40 girls that come to us and say ‘we want to play rugby’ we’re going to try and make that happen,” McCune said.
Zoe Rose (’18), a passionate rugby fan, believes enthusiasm for the sport would percolate in the High School if a team were present. “I’m sure there are people that would join if there was [a team] because rugby is a big sport here,” she said.
Similarly, Daniels hopes a team will be added in the near future. “I’d love for it to be one of the options for next fall. I don’t want another girl to have to ask ‘Why can’t girls play rugby?’ I don’t want that situation to have to occur,” she said.
McCune’s only hesitation would be that, especially in the High School when more sports are offered, increasing athletic options could “kill one program to start a new one.”
For Ross, forming the Middle School After School Program inches towards a competitive high school team. “The natural progression of a sport is that once you’ve started it, as long as it’s popular and you have enough people signing up is that it just keeps growing,” he said.
Based on middle school interest, Rose believes a High School team is warranted for the girls who wish to pursue rugby in the future. “The fact that there is an after school program for the Middle School makes it all the more important to have a female rugby team,” Rose said. “We need to make it more easily accessible for those girls, and other girls as well, who want to do rugby in high school.”