How to be a rugby super fan: a commentary on giving back to rugby
By Vanesha McGee
When I retired from rugby in 2014 I knew that coaching and refereeing were not on my post-playing path. I have great respect for those whose paths travel from playing to coaching, Kathy Flores being a personally notable figure. I admire those who find a home in refereeing after playing, the USA’s most recent addition to the Women’s World Series circuit-Emily Hsieh-being a standout that comes to mind. Many individuals, at many levels of the game, have given their time and energy to rugby in such important ways. I know this. I love this. I wholly support this. And I knew when I left the pitch, that neither of these paths were mine to take. But, my love for the rugby community runs deep and I was not interested in letting that connection go.
I began my rugby super fan exploration on the sidelines and in the stands. I traveled to tournaments, attended local matches, cheered on former teammates, yelled for anyone and everyone who put on a jersey to represent their women’s rugby team. As a super sideline fan, I found that socializing was a big part of being such an active participant. As an introvert, I also found that I couldn’t keep up. There wasn’t enough time in a day, a week, or even a month for me to fully recover and feel whole at the next game or tournament. After a brief whirlwind of enthusiastic sideline support, I had to switch gears. I easily gravitated to the internet where I knew I could cheer on women’s rugby without emptying my tiny jar of socialization by paying small fees to watch all the domestic and international women’s rugby I could. Watching online, with occasional in-person cheering, wasn’t enough for me, so I continued to search for meaningful ways to support rugby growth.
One of my biggest life passions is writing. I have been a writer since I first learned to scribble my name, but it took me over twenty years to realize that writing was worthy of my undivided attention and could possibly benefit others. As an educator, I taught young humans to write their first letters, scribe in cursive, edit essays and publish articles. I left the education system in search of a deeper calling of my own and found that writing could be a meaningful way for me to show my support of and bring others to the game I love so deeply.
From a brief stint with USA Rugby (match reviews turned out not to be my strong suit) to articles and projects with Rugby Americas North, I learned that my way of giving back to rugby could be a uniquely rewarding adventure. I wrote press releases, coach introductions, player profiles, and international tournament previews. I was excited about my written pieces and thrilled that others began to spread my words around their sports communities.
I reconnected with Jules McCoy, former USA National Team Coach and Founder of American Rugby Pro Training Center (ARPTC), through my writing pursuits and was offered a steady position within the ARTPC family. ARPTC offers full-time training options paired with domestic and international matches that push athletes to higher levels of play, and thus the game overall to a higher level. Upon joining the team, I was tasked with using my creativity to build online content and to help progress the overall growth of the organization. Giving back to the rugby community in this way was an unforeseen avenue that allowed me to pair my joy of the sport with my skills as a writer and creator.
I work to bring ARPTC training programs to young girls and women across the country and abroad. I create digital campaigns that spread these opportunities for rugby training to high school, college, and club level players seeking to build their skills. Watching the number of girls who sign up to attend a high school camp steadily rise, in part due to my efforts, brings me joy. Offering scholarships and training sponsorships to women who otherwise may not be able to afford this next step in their rugby journey is a fulfilling opportunity. Tracking inquiries from brand new rugby athletes and answering questions from parents of young rugby players through social media posts or webpage additions shows me that what I am fortunate enough to do is worthwhile in the growth of women’s rugby.
Finding my own path to being a women’s rugby super fan has reminded me that just as eclectic as every rugby team is, so too are the offerings of those retired athletes in search of ways to give back. The growth of women’s rugby is dependent on those off the pitch who are willing to spread the word, share their resources and find their inner super fans. My super fandom need not look like yours, nor yours like mine. Building and strengthening our rugby communities keeps us strong. All rugby community-minded organizations, like WRCRA, are the greatest places to find others seeking to showcase rugby in its brightest lights. Find your community, be a super fan, support the continued growth of the game in the ways best suited for you. This is the most important thing we can do to say thank you and to pass on our love for the game.
Vanesha McGee is the Founder and President of Enlightened Mamas located in Denver, Colorado. Enlightened Mamas is an organization that focuses on supporting individuals and families throughout their birthing experiences. As a black woman connected on a daily basis to the lack of equality for women of color, Vanesha knew that her skills and drive to create change would benefit the birthing community in necessary ways. The collective feeling of communal camaraderie, in depth realized within the rugby community, is one that influences Vanesha’s birth work as she seeks to build stronger communities for families during their birthing experiences. Enlightened Mamas serves as a resource for all families, with a specialized focus on womxn of color who are up to four time more likely to die during and immediately after childbirth, to become educated in their birthing rights and options. As Vanesha continues her drive towards reproductive justice, she connects her rugby, teaching and birth-focused worlds with a dedication to bringing joy to the forefront of each pursuit.
Vanesha began playing rugby in 2002 at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. At Temple, she helped her team to its first National Championship and played the role of captain for two years. Vanesha went on to play Club rugby for Keystone and Philly Women before moving to New York and joining New York Rugby Club for the next five years, celebrating multiple team championships. Vanesha developed her international rugby skills beginning in 2003 on the USA Under 23 development team of which she was a co-Captain. She received her first international cap in 2007 and went on to earn 25 caps (XVs) over the course of seven years. Vanesha played wing for the 2010 USA World Cup Team, earning a fifth place finish. In 2012, Vanesha was recruited into the first squad of full-time rugby athletes training at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. She captained the USA 2013 Sevens World Cup Team to a Bronze medal finish. In 2014, Vanesha played her final rugby matches for the USA at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France.
After leaving the rugby pitch in 2014, Vanesha traveled internationally before landing in Denver, Colorado to teach at an athletic-minded charter school, the Girls Athletic Leadership School. The school, founded by rugby player Nina Safane, was developed on a premise that ‘if you have a body, you’re an athlete’. Vanesha spent four years teaching middle and high school students the benefits of exercise, social-emotional development, and academic pursuits before she left the formal education system.
In addition to supporting families around birth, Vanesha works as a Freelance Writer and Public Relations Manager. Her writing centers on non-fiction storytelling and poetry and has recently earned her a spot at the Writers of Color Retreat in Colorado. Vanesha uses her skills to support the rugby community as the Public Relations Manager of the American Rugby Pro Training Center (ARPTC). She specializes in web content and creative development in an effort to bring more awareness to rugby athletes about the unique training opportunities offered through ARPTC programs.
Vanesha found WRCRA through the leaders at ARPTC and took part in the first full-scope conference in 2018. She has since been an avid supporter, pushing for more womxn in and around the rugby community to take part in WRCRA events and fundraising. “Supporting the growth of womxn in rugby is a priority as gender equality in sport continues to be challenged. Contributing to WRCRA means exponentially more support for the rugby community and support of womxn boosting the game around the country and beyond.”