By KJ Feury
Like other State Rugby Organizations, Rugby New Jersey has seen a drop in the number of girls playing rugby over the last few years. This has affected the number of teams playing rugby and league play. Surprisingly, this comes at a time when there are more opportunities for women to play rugby in college on teams that are supported by universities across the country.
Rugby New Jersey made an active decision to initiate a few new programs and directives to reenergize the game. The spring season was changed from a 15s to a 10s game in order to increase the number of teams without increasing the size of the roster. A round robin, flexible schedule was introduced to encourage a festival feel and allow teams to share players if needed. Plans were also made to hold a conference specifically for high school girls to expose them to the off-pitch attributes of the game.
Rugby NJ’s Tackle Life Like a Girl, a conference specific to high school-age females, was held on January 27, 2018. A powerhouse faculty was coordinated that focused on the character pillars of rugby and how these traits have focused many accomplished women in their rugby and vocational careers. Integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect were recurring themes throughout the day.
Phaidra Knight, one of the most accomplished USA Rugby players and 2017 World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, opened the conference as the keynote speaker highlighting her determination and commitment that started as a young girl.
Maggie Garin RD led the presentation, You are What You Eat. The nutrition talk included a spirited “Truth or Myth” game show-style interactive session that brought the participants out of their seats.
Knight facilitated the panel discussion, How Rugby Has Paved My Career Path, which brought club and USA national team players together to share their stories and passion for the game.
Donna Waliky, a long-time Women’s Division 2 and Flag Rugby Coach for Morris Rugby, highlighted her experience as a player and coach and her current role as a Healthcare Manager. “I have learned from the diversity of the rugby teams I have been involved in over the year. These experiences have carried over to my professional life, as I lead a very diverse healthcare team on to new initiatives.”
Alycia Washington, a 2017 USA Rugby World Cup Team member and Simsbury High School coach, challenged the high school girls to learn more about the game by reading the rugby law book. She credits becoming a rugby referee with her growth as a player.
Tina Miller, a player for the Morris Women’s team, grew up playing flag and high school rugby and has stayed in the game while pursuing her career in the fashion industry. She feels, “rugby set me apart from other applicants for all jobs I have pursued. My work ethic has been grounded by my continued involvement in the sport.”
Lara Vivolo, an elementary educator and coach for Army Women’s Rugby, highlighted movement and continued commitment to new challenges to stay sharp in your personal life and professional life. She guided her rugby career by continued forward movement and personal versatility to give her team what they needed.
Building Self Confidence was highlighted by Tiffany Faaee, USA Rugby’s 2017 World Cup captain. Her message resonated well with the high school students. "Break your goals down into manageable tasks, small to big. ... Keep focused, discipline yourself, take advantage of the opportunities that come your way and utilize your support systems and always reflect on what you have done,” noted Faaee.
Koma Gandy Fischbein moderated the RU College Ready panel, which featured Kate Daley, Penn State Women’s Rugby head coach, and Brenda Doctor, Monroe Women’s Rugby captain.
Daley highlighted the importance of finding the right academic fit first, and then finding the level of rugby that best fits your interest and ability. She also stressed seeking assistance from the college university guidance department, athletic department or rugby team to assist with the transitional adjustments to college life. “You must be proactive and seek assistance when needed,” noted Daley. “Your coaches are there to help, but must know when you need it."
Doctor urged the participants to use their time wisely and organize their class, study, athletic and work time wisely.
The program closed with a “Dance Off” that stressed communication and team work. Kershal Anthony was able to get the room up and dancing to end the session on a high note.
The participants of Tackle Life Like a Girl enjoyed the program, were excited by the topics, and realized that the game of rugby is much more than “x’s” and “o’s” on a chalk board. The high school participants realized that many are working to grow the game and move it forward, but they as players need to take an active role.
The faculty was very pleased with the attendees' level of participation and their enthusiasm for the game they love.
Rugby New Jersey hopes to see an increase in player numbers, more competitive games throughout the region and excitement in every high school players eyes.
Rugby New Jersey is grateful for the support received from Morristown Medical Center, Northern New Jersey Safe Kids, Go Play Sports and the Investors Foundation. Without their confidence in supporting our vision programs such as Tackle Life Like a Girl could not happen.