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A Unique Legacy in Rugby

By the Trouts

As a rugby player in the United States, it’s rare that people know the sport let alone know that women play it. That’s why I (Lauren Trout) have always felt lucky in my family’s unique relationship with the game. The rugby legacy is strong in my family. Well, it’s strong with the women of my family. For you see rugby has almost exclusively been played by the women in my family. My mother played, my aunt played, my sister played, and I still play and coach. It’s a legacy that has just begun and I hope continues for many years to come.

The Beginning: Candy (Cox) Trout

My First Year (1975/76):

It all started with a visit from my upstairs dorm neighbors, Patty Fleming and Kristin Hallin… “Hey the University is forming a Women’s Rugby Team, do you want to play?” And my response… “Sure, what’s rugby?”

I was “athletic” and had played high school basketball, but like most young women at that time, I had never had the opportunity to play organized sports growing up. For the vast majority of us, the only personal exposure to most sports, like track, field hockey, tennis and softball, was during our PE classes. But Title IX (June 23, 1972) and its regulations (May 27, 1975) began to change all that.

In the Fall of 1975, Patty, Kristin and I were all college freshmen at the University of California, Davis. Kristin and Patty had gone to high school together and Kristin’s dad coached a men’s rugby team in the San Francisco Bay area, so they at least understood the sport. I was soon to learn more and whole-heartedly embrace the rough and tumble sport of rugby.

To begin with, there were only seven of us on the women’s team and although we were supported by the UCD men’s team and occasionally participated in drills/practices with them, we did not have a coach. Luckily, one of our teammates had played at UCLA before coming to UCD to begin Vet School that Fall, and so Laurie Gage became our player-coach.

Later that Fall, we were told by the UCD men’s coach that he had entered our team in the Stanford (University) Tournament because he’d heard that another women’s team (a community team from San Francisco) was planning to enter. Since this was a 7 or 10-a-side tournament, we had just enough players to participate! Only one minor problem – none of the team apparel we had ordered had come in yet. So, we arrived at Stanford with our cleats and various rugby jerseys loaned to us by our men’s team (none of them matching), for our first rugby match.

As we wandered the tournament grounds in our mismatched jerseys, we were repeatedly stopped by male rugby players asking if we were going to play……we told them “Yes”, not realizing that the tournament officials had scheduled our match on the grandstand field (where only the championship match was to be played) and during the lunch break (so that all the men’s teams and coaches could attend).

We gathered at the field a few minutes before our match, met the ladies from the San Francisco team and got instructions from the official. At that point, he looked at us and said “I coach a boy’s rugby team and have 7 jerseys in my car that match, if you would like to use them”- so we thanked him and accepted. There was no place to change, so in true rugby spirit, the SF ladies circled around us on the field and we promptly shucked our old jerseys and put on the new (with loud applause from the stands). We would get to know the SF players on a first name basis; theirs was the only other women’s team in northern California at the time and they were our frequent opponents the first couple of years.

What I remember most about that match, (“the first women’s rugby match ever played at the Stanford Tournament”, according to the announcer) was the thunder (feet pounding in the metal stands) and roar of the crowd when Laurie Gage and I chased down and tackled one of the SF players. We were all stunned at this reaction – I guess the men weren’t expecting the ladies to tackle! The match ended in a 4-4 tie (each team scoring a try) and after a discussion with the SF team, since there were no other women’s teams entered in the tournament, we decided to leave it at that.

UC Davis Women’s Rugby – 1975/76 Team Photo Patty, Kristin and Me

Being a club team with no real budget for travel we relied on ride-sharing with the men and women of our rugby club and a network of friends and relatives for housing, but were still able to participate in tournaments at San Diego (January 1976) and Santa Barbara (April 1976) that first year. These tournaments were so exciting and much as we loved the play on the field, it was exposure to the social aspects of rugby culture that hooked us!

With few resources that first year, we UCD women had to rely on each other and that solidified our bonds as friends and teammates. With a keen sense of joy and comradery, our talented women’s team concluded a successful first season with 10 wins/2 losses, including a win against the West Coast’s second ranked UC San Diego Women’s Rugby Club (4-0).

1976/77 season:

Women’s rugby started to take off in California - many new teams formed in 1976 and 1977 - including college teams at Cal State Chico, Stanford and UC Santa Barbara, and community teams in Kern County (Bakersfield) and San Jose. It was an exciting time for the sport – more women’s teams and a larger player pool elevated the quality of the matches.

The UC Davis women’s team had an impact on rugby culture as well! After many hours of hearing the men sing their raunchy rugby songs, the UCD women took the initiative to re-write several of them from a woman’s perspective. (The UCD men encouraged us to sing “our” songs at post-match socials and we taught them to other women’s teams.)

UC Davis played in a women’s match (v Cal State Chico) as the opener prior to a men’s match pitting the Northern California College All-Stars v New Zealand (touring side). We women got lots of compliments from the New Zealanders - they had never seen a women’s match before - they told us we played rugby “the way it was supposed to be played and not like a bunch of ex-football jocks.” They were also mightily impressed when Kristin Hallin and I got up and sang some of our women’s rugby songs and they asked us to write down the lyrics for them!

1977/78 season:

Our “15 Minutes of Fame” (or not): One afternoon, I got a call from Patty Fleming with some good news and some bad news… The good news – a photo of the UCD women’s scrum had been published in Life Magazine’s Special Report Fall 1977 edition! The bad news – the wing forwards/flankers (Kristin Hallin and I) were not in the photo. And the worst news of all – our players had been misidentified as members of the UC Santa Barbara team!

Cover photo - Rochelle Law (UCLA)

Double page spread - UC Davis team with injured player Rae Parker (misidentified as Debbie Schoenfield - UC Santa Barbara)

Having a more mature team in our third season led to continued success on the field - with a 22-0 victory over Stanford University, the UC Davis women earned the Northern California Rugby League Championship in March 1978! We went on to capture the Stanislaus Invitational Championship (April 1978) with wins over San Francisco and Kern County.

1978/79 season and beyond:

I did not play rugby at UCD in the spring of my senior year (1979). With graduation in sight, I was busy with final projects, applying to Vet School and Graduate Schools and trying to figure out what direction my life was going to take. After graduation, I took a year off to work and save money for grad school. During that time, I played a few matches with a community women’s team in Sacramento, so rugby was still part of my life but I missed my former UCD teammates.

In the Fall of 1980, I headed off to Indiana (Purdue University) to begin my master’s degree program and picked up rugby once again, playing on the Purdue women’s team during the 1980/81 season. I made some good friends on the Purdue team (including my future sister-in-law, Pam Trout) but did not feel the strong team connection that I’d had at UC Davis and so 1980/81 would be my final rugby season. I will say that rugby gave me confidence in my athletic ability and enabled me to move on to another challenging sport - Purdue Women’s Crew (rowing team) during my second/final year of Graduate School. I loved rowing and discovered again the joy and power of highly-motivated women working together to achieve success through sport!

Amazingly, I would experience both sports again through my daughters, when they were Purdue athletes.

The Next Generation: Lauren Trout

My First Year: 2008/09

In 2008 I graduated from high school and headed off to Purdue University. Literally everyone in my family went to Purdue, and I was excited to be in a “big” town. As a girl from a small country town in Indiana, I was ready to try new things and venture out of my comfort zone. You see, while I was a three-sport athlete, rugby was not one of them. Rugby was barely talked about growing up. My mother had mentioned it, but the rules made no sense, and I never really understood what it was.

At Purdue I was a bit nervous to be in a new place, but I knew playing a sport would help me find fast friends. I went to the club sports fair and walked around looking for activities to get involved in. I eventually came upon the rugby table. I remember thinking “rugby? I’ve heard of that word”, and I stopped at the table. I picked up the flyer and decided to check out the call out. At the call out I remember thinking the vets on the team were the toughest and yet goofiest bunch of ladies I had ever met. I was hooked!

I would go on to play rugby my entire college career. We weren’t very good while I was at Purdue, but I had fallen in love with the sport and did my best to become a student of the game. One of the coolest moments for me was when I went home and visited my mother, she pulled out all her old rugby albums and jerseys. We talked about the game and what had changed. It was an incredible way to connect.

After Graduation

After my senior year (2012), I had done enough damage to my right shoulder that I needed shoulder surgery. That year was a Winter Olympic year, and so while recovering I watched as much as I could. Since I was 6, I always had the dream of one day going to the Olympics, so I asked, “what’s to stop me from doing that with rugby?”. From then on, I set my sights on trying to make the national team. In January of 2013, I would attend my first Eagle Training Camp in Chicago. By that summer I had moved to the big city and started playing 7s with the Chicago Lions. In August of 2013, I was invited to the Olympic Training Center to play with the USA Developmental 7s team!

I never made the US Women’s National Team for Rugby Union. I tried for several years, was invited to multiple camps, but never quite made it over the hump. But that’s okay because I had a fantastic playing career in Chicago. I played with Chicago North Shore Women’s Rugby for almost a decade from 2013-2022. While there, we went on to two 15s DI national championship finals, multiple Midwest championships, transitioned to the WPL, relaunched the 7s program, and even dipped our toes into rugby league. I played 7s (my true love) for several teams over that time including the Chicago Lions, ARPTC, Atlantis, Chicago Griffins, the Stars, and Chicago North Shore.

1st photo: A muddy pic after North Shore qualified for nationals in 2016

2nd: My wife Kadie and I representing Chicago on the first US Women’s Rugby League Team in 2022.

3rd: Chicago North Shore finishing 4th place at 7s Nationals in 2023. I’m coaching!

Transitioning to Coaching

Towards the end of my playing career, I fell in love with teaching others this crazy game. I first started coaching in 2016, but eventually I transitioned from a player to a player-coach and then to just a coach. I took over the head coach role of North Shore 7s in 2022, and since then we’ve had two straight 4th place finishes at 7s nationals. I’ve also had the good fortune to coach 7s professionally, coaching the Team Franchise with PR7s 2023 (looking forward to 2024). I have no idea where my coaching career will take me, but that Olympic dream I had as a 6-year-old still lives inside my head. So who knows…

I do hope to have a daughter one day, and while I’d be happy for her to follow any passion, the history teacher in me would love for her to continue the family legacy. Rugby has not only given me a passion to pour myself into, but it’s also allowed me to connect with my community, and most importantly with my family in ways I didn’t know I needed. My parents have been huge supporters over the years and have traveled across the country to see me in action. I can’t wait to do the same for my kids when they inevitably fall in love with rugby too.

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