Updated: May 27, 2019
The “storm of a generation” did not derail the Women’s Rugby Coaches & Referees Association’s first Women in Rugby conference, as 114 women and men gathered at Queens University in Charlotte, N.C. Informative conversations, new connections and celebration marked the three-day event, and the overwhelmingly positive feedback guarantees the conference’s return in 2019.
Friday began with the inspirational discussion, Developing a Deep Bench of Women Leaders, as moderated by keynote speaker Nicole LaVoi. Panelists Katie Sadleir (GM of Women’s Rugby, World Rugby), Kathy Henderson (Rugby Canada), Jennifer Gray (Rugby America North), Emilie Bydwell (USA Rugby) and Phaidra Knight (USA Rugby) drove a frank, data-driven conversation, and delighted the audience with evidence supporting the rapid global growth of women’s rugby.
Fittingly, newly minted USA Rugby board member Julie Lau led the subsequent panel, Women in Congress. Members shared their pathways to congress, their responsibilities in their roles, and the challenges and opportunities associated with them. A wonderful exchange between the panel and audience followed, and many attendees expressed a resolve to better know their congress reps and hold them accountable.
Saturday opened with Building a Future that Inspires Women’s Leadership, a keynote by Nicole LaVoi and sponsored by 24K Brands. The talk was data driven and compared the growth and challenges women coaches and referees face to other women’s sports. Dr. LaVoi underscored the importance that we “bust stereotypes and myths with data!”
Mid-day breakout sessions followed, and then attendees spent their lunch break with Katie Sadleir, who spoke to World Rugby’s Global Strategy; or with Annemarie Farrell for a conversation on building a culture of fundraising and philanthropy.
After more breakout sessions, Emilie Bydwell and Carol Isherwood drew the audience back together as they reviewed the United States’ and United Kingdom’s talent identification programs. Pam Kosanke then ended the day with, Turning We Got Game into We Got Value, a powerful presentation on the marketing potential and power in the women’s game, presented by Carolinas GU. Participants noted the impactful synergy between the opening keynote by LaVoi and the final presentation by Kosanke. As one participant noted, “The bookends crushed it!”
The evening dinner was presented by Title Sponsor Atavus and included Five Stories of Life and Rugby, presented by Irish Rugby Tours. Five decades of storytelling was a highlight of the conference, really underscoring as one participant noted, the strength in our “colorful, powerful history.” Others noted how critical it is to build and publicize these narratives.
Sunday was a morning of group thinking, resulting in a number of actionable items that will be pursued in the coming year and tons of momentum for further growth.
In addition to great content, conference sponsors came through big. Gold Sponsor Taco Mac provided discounts Thursday night. Gold Sponsor Ruggers Rugby Supply provided free conference t-shirts to all participants, which paired nicely with sporty shades supplied by Gold Sponsor Penn Mutual. Silver Sponsor World Rugby Shop outfitted the USWRF staff and Queens University volunteers in Nike polos. And the “wingspan” raffle was well stocked and included tropical-themed jerseys from Supporting Sponsor Rhino Rugby, and a WRCRA-logoed replica leather ball, produced by Ruggers and autographed by all attendees, as the top prize.
Five of the Conference sessions were streamed live, with a total of nearly 7K views. The archived content can be found on the WRCRA Facebook page. Engagement in the Conference was also strong, with speakers and attendees using the hashtag #WomeninRugby often and engaging with WRCRA Facebook content over 5K times for a total reach of 18K.
The US Women’s Rugby Foundation also gifted $1K to Queens University Women’s Rugby Program for their support in hosting the weekend’s events, as well as donated $1K to Girls Rugby Inc. for their work in building successful programs around the country to increase the participation of girls and women in rugby.