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The Mothers of Dragons: CU, CSU, and the Founders of Women’s Rugby

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Participants of one of the earliest women’s rugby games played in the US (1973) between the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University. They put on sweaty men’s jerseys, cutoff jeans, and tube socks—and they built a movement.

The idea to start both the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) and Colorado State University (CSU) women’s teams came about over the Labor Day weekend in 1971. It happened at the Aspen Ruggerfest. Trudi Foreman was a student at CU and was in the stands with a few other women watching a men’s match between CU and the Aspen Men.

After the match someone had arranged a “Powder Puff" rugby game for women. “We were irritated by the Powder Puff match,” recalls Trudi. “It was an offensive display of bad rugby. So we started talking about women playing the game correctly.”

In 1971, the CSU and the CU men's clubs were very friendly. That friendship extended to the women that traveled with both teams. So the CU and CSU women in attendance that day—witnesses to the degrading (to both women and the game) Powder Puff display—left Aspen with the intention of simultaneously starting women's teams at their schools.

“We (CU) recruited Jeff Alred, a Boulder player, to coach us,” reports Trudi. “He wound up coaching the CU women for over 10 years (1971-1984).”

A later recruit, Julia Marley (shown in the photo above, passing the ball in 1973) recalls: “Our coaches were all men players. Jeff deserves the credit for the team and all the fun we had. He was a great coach and loved the game. Helping Jeff coach in my time was Dan Lee—and I think there were other guys who helped out sometimes also.”

Both CU and CSU start-up teams practiced throughout that spring of 1971. Trudi recalls: “We had a good number of people at the first few practices. The core group was very organized.”

In the fall of 1972, in an ugly, drizzly day on a wet pitch, the first women’s rugby game in the US was played between the women of CU and CSU.

The CU women wore the black and gold men’s jerseys, which had not been washed since the men’s last match. “That first game is just a blur,” Trudi recalls. “But I had the most amazing time.”

At the beginning, the mix of women was about “50/50 undergraduate students to graduate students,” says Trudi. “There were also a few post-grads thrown in there. I remember the first few practices were strange. And wonderful.

“At the time there were very few team sport options for women. For all of us, it was incredible to be on a field, tackling and playing a full-contact team sport.”

After that first match (CU won) the CU women remained undefeated for 2.5 years—admittedly, their only opponent in the first year was CSU.

Julia Marley had been recruited off the CU sidelines, as she watched what she described as the “chaos” of a men’s game during 1972. She was 17 at the time. One of the coaches approached her to ask if she’d want to join a women’s rugby team.

“I told him, ‘No way.’ It looked extremely painful,” she recalls.

But the coach’s persistence paid off. In the spring of 1973, after some begging, she joined in the practices and became part of the team.

“To my surprise, the sport had lots of structure and rules. There was an order after all! I loved learning the game—it all moved like clockwork when everything went well.”

During 1973 another Colorado team—the Scarlet Harlots—organized, followed in 1974 by the Denver Blues. By 1974, there were approximately 29 women’s teams in the US.

As CU alumnus Matty Leighton recounts: “The CU women had a long tradition of excellence. In 1973 they traveled to the OMBAC San Diego tournament and took first place. The following year, they again won the San Diego tournament as well as the Colorado Championship. In 1975 CU women got a real test when they traveled to the Annual Santa Barbara Tournament and beat San Diego State, UCLA, Belmont Shores, UCSD, OMBUSH, Tempe, and Phoenix. Through much of the early to mid 1970s CU was the dominant women’s team in the country.”

Julia Marley left school for a year (returning 1974-1975) and re-joined the CU women. “By that time, we had expanded our competitions to include teams from California,” she remembers. As Matty noted earlier, CU traveled to play in the 1975 Santa Barbara Rugby Tournament. Julia was included in that roster.

“There were so many teams there,” she recalls. “It was very exciting. So many games, so much camaraderie. I had friends in college out there, and they all came to cheer us on. It was really fun.”

Around 1975 the CU women changed their name to the Rainbows and traded their black and gold hooped jerseys for blue, red, gold, and white, adopting the colors of the Colorado state flag. Throughout the late ’70s the CU Rainbows ruled the west, winning tournaments in Texas, Phoenix, and San Francisco.

Later, the CU Rainbows represented the west at the 1981 National Club Championships. They enjoyed two more appearances at the National Club tourney (1989 & 1992) before the team changed their colors to purple and black. The color change, however, did little to stop their slide from the ranks of the top clubs. In the fall of 1995 the CU women went back to their roots—the black and gold of CU—and adopted the University mascot ‘Buff’ as their name.

Today the CU women are a D1 club team at the University of Colorado and all team members are enrolled undergraduate students. But the site doesn’t do justice to the significant role CU played in the history of women’s rugby in the United States. They were the first.

Of course this history doesn’t belong solely to CU and CSU—it belongs to all of us. This is our collective history and it’s critical that we preserve it.

I don’t know any of the women in this picture, but I want to reach into the past and thank them for their courage. What they’re shown in the photo doing had so rarely been done before. As you return to the pitch this spring, consider that 50 years ago these young women were willing to pull up their tube socks and endure some amount of derision and devaluing because of their choice to play a nascent sport that was, until 1971, considered off-limits to women. They are the mothers of dragons.


Thank you to Matty Leighton, who wrote a history of CU women's rugby for the club's 25th anniversary, and to both Trudi Foreman and Jeff Aldred, who shared their stories with us.

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