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Member Spotlight: Angela Smarto

Interview by Kerri Heffernan

Where do you live? The greatest city in the world, Pittsburgh, PA

Occupation: High School Special Education Teacher at a vocational high school. I help students learn industry specific content then occasionally get to take apart a lawn mower engine or frame out a tiny house blueprint.

When did you begin playing rugby? Why?

This is the exact text exchange between a high school friend and I in the second week of freshmen fall semester 2007:

Her: Hey, do you have cleats in your dorm?

Me: yeah

Her: I got a flyer for Rookie Rugby Day. Wanna go with me? Sounds interesting

Me: yeah ok - when? where?

She stuck around for about a month, and I haven’t missed a second since then. I honestly believe that I would’ve found rugby at any college I went to; I just happened to go to Penn State and join the best collegiate program in history about to peak in national dominance. Lucky me.

College Rugby: Penn State University 2007-2012, 3x D1 National Champions

Club or Post-College Rugby: Pittsburgh Angels 2012-2018, 2x D2 National Champions. In 2018, The Angels merged with the Pittsburgh Highlanders to form the Pittsburgh Forge. After 56 years, I was the last president of the Pittsburgh Rugby Club and the first co-president of the Pittsburgh Forge on our first merged board. I officially played for the Forge once in the inaugural season then immediately retired from playing rugby due to my susceptibility to recurring concussions.

Tell us about your administrative role with NCR:

I am the National Collegiate Rugby Women’s Director and D1 Commissioner. I have executive jurisdiction over approximately 50% of college women’s rugby. My primary function is to provide national championship pathways which are Fall 15s and Spring 7s, and all the support in competition to get there. My secondary function is to figure out what the other 85% of teams need to have a meaningful college experience because most teams don’t get to the playoffs for a million different reasons.

My secondary job is a lot harder. I am running myself ragged trying to get a handle on the magnitude of needs for the majority of college women’s rugby. Last year was a waiting game because we didn’t really know what was going to happen coming out of a COVID gap year. Now we know and oh boy - what a year we’re about to have. Every team is on their own journey back to rugby, and I’m here to help.

What other administrative roles have you taken on?

  • Penn State Rugby - Match Secretary, and de facto alumni shenanigans coordinator

  • Pittsburgh Rugby Club (in chronological order from 2012-2019) - Fundraising Chair, 4x Steel City 7s Tournament Director, Women’s Team Board Rep, 2x Golf Outing Director without ever visiting a golf course, Vice President, President, Ex-Officio

  • Allegheny Rugby Union (2014-now) - Secretary, Webmaster, Women’s Collegiate Coordinator, Women’s Selects Program Director (high school, college, senior events)

  • USA Rugby (2019) - College Management Council, Midwest Representative

What does women's rugby need at this moment?

Factory reset.

I inherited a ticking time bomb that blew up during a global pandemic. I’m working with the shrapnel because I wasn’t ready to build my own system. I’m trying to keep this fragile system together, and I realize that the pieces don’t really fit back together.

Our systems are played out and now it's time to start over. Like all the way over. Burn the boats because there isn’t anything left for us back home. This is the New World.

What's going well?

Personally, I feel more confident in my role now. I was hesitant at first getting my bearings on the burden but I feel better about steering the ship. I'm certain NCR CEO Jeremy Treece is literally laughing as he reads this sentence about calling myself "hesitant" or being timid about my opinions, but it's true. I was in a very different headspace a year ago. It's one thing to run a local organization where you know everyone. It’s a horse of a different color to have nationwide board calls with people you've never met reporting on a job you didn’t expect to have.

Organizationally, I am trying to open the door for more women to have more control of our game. Our Small College Commissioner Jessie Blitz and Growth and Development Officer Christine Varga, work very hard to provide more deliverable services to our players. We started a few committees, but I want to open up more spaces for advocates to have an avenue for impact.

Nationally, hot damn we are playing again. All the politics are moot at kick off, so I hope everyone is back and remembering why we do all of this. It's supposed to be fun, and if you're not having fun you're not in the right place.

What's your most sage advice for women going into coaching or admin roles?

  • Anticipate the needs of people you serve

  • Want things you’ve never seen before

  • On any rugby trip, you’re in charge of your own snacks and caffeine

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