Updated: May 6
An Interview with Kerri Heffernan and Jami Jordan
As we consider the implications for women’s rugby during the reorganization of USA Rugby, we can take comfort in knowing that we’ve been here before and that, years ago, women ran their own game. In the coming months, the U.S. Women’s Rugby Foundation (USWRF) will publish an ongoing series on women’s rugby history. We’ll highlight the pioneers of the women’s game and try our best to accurately tell the history of women’s rugby in the United States. This series will not be linear. We’ll jump back and forth to bring you the names, stories and faces of the women and men who built and ran women’s rugby. Gathering this history is a big job and requires professional assistance. USWRF is pleased to be working with Kat Aversano, a coach with the Fort Hunt Girls Rugby program and a historian with the Department of Justice, to surface, sort, digitize and archive women’s rugby history. Our goal is to have this archive in the Library of Congress in the next 3-4 years. If you would like to nominate someone to highlight and/or contribute documents please contact Kerri Heffernan (KHeffernan@uswrf.org).
In this first installment we profile Jami Jordan, Chair of the Women’s Committee from 1989-1993. The Women’s Committee was founded in the spring of 1979 by Elissa Augello and was composed of representatives from the 4 territories (East, Pacific, Midwest and West). While the Women’s Committee was a ‘committee’ within USA Rugby, the Women’s Committee ran women’s rugby in the U.S. at every level, with the game flourishing because the committee members were so good at their jobs. They were competent, committed, tactful, patient, creative, resourceful and inspired leaders. Jami Jordan had all these qualities and more. Under her leadership Club Nationals were refined, Women’s College Nationals were organized, the Women’s Territorial Championships expanded, the first U.S. Women’s National Team was selected, the first U.S. women’s international match was played, the first Women’s World Cup was organized, and the first Women’s International Committee was formed. Those who were involved can tell you, it was exhausting, often thankless work but the results speak for themselves. HEFFERNAN: Where are you from and what do you do? JORDAN: I was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. At the age 12, my family moved to Camp Hill, PA. I went to Penn State and majored in Early Childhood Education. After leaving college, I had miscellaneous jobs for three years. In 1983, I got a job in financial services and that became my career. I worked alongside trading floors for a number of years, making sure regulatory measures were being followed. Traders were a lot like petulant toddlers so my degree wasn’t wasted. However, the bulk of my career was in managing large tech platform changes. How did you begin playing rugby? I moved to Baltimore in my senior year of college to do a practicum in early childhood ed. My sister was playing rugby for Chesapeake Women’s Rugby and I agreed to play too as a condition for living with her. I played for Chesapeake from 1980-86, the Maryland Stingers from 1986-1991 and, in the late 1990’s, I had a brief stint as a B side player for NY women. I started as a hooker, moved to scrumhalf and ended my career at flanker. How did you get into the administrative side of rugby? I started at the club level putting my time in as match secretary and social secretary, those revolving positions that keep teams going. My roommate at the time was involved with the Potomac Rugby Union administrative group. She was the women’s representative for Cheseapeake and introduced me to the larger governing structure. In 1985, the position of representative for the Eastern Rugby Union (ERU) to the Women’s Committee opened up and I was selected. I was elected Chair of the Women’s Committee in May of 1989 and held that position until May 1993. What was it like working with the Women’s Committee? It was interesting. We were running women’s rugby on a volunteer basis. We didn’t tend to have strong relationships with one another outside of the group. We met to do business. Most of our challenges were dealing with the men and the ‘lowly position’ of women’s rugby in the USAR pecking order. But we were a defiant group, committed to growing the women’s game - as Marcia Borge said, “We run our own show.” I think Betsy Kimball, the Eastern territorial representative, said it best: “We were a range of ages from 20-40 and, generally, our love of rugby united us more than our interterritorial and team rivalries and different philosophies divided us.” What are you proudest of accomplishing? In terms of what was accomplished on my watch, launching collegiate nationals ranks way up there. When I think back on what it took to pull that off, it’s impressive that we were able to do it. But we did it and didn’t look back - and look at college rugby today. From a competition standpoint, each year we put together club national championships and the Interterritorials (ITT’s). The Collegiate Nationals, Club Nationals and ITT’s were rolling when I joined the committee. Diane Terwilliger and Marcia Borge spearheaded getting the Women’s National Team recognized, i.e. moving the team from our heads to a team in matching jerseys. I am proud that we were able to move that work forward - taking the team to the first international match in Victoria, Canada in 1986 and ultimately the first World Cup in 1991. How did the first Women’s National Team and the first Women’s World Cup Team become a reality? I wasn’t really all that involved in the 1987 Women’s National Team team. Territorial Championships were created in 1986, so the next natural step was a national team. At the time, Canadaian women’s rugby was moving at the same pace as the U.S. but they had more support from Rugby Canada so it made sense for them to host the first women’s international. They were already planning to host a men's match, so the Canadians extended an invitation to the U.S. women as well. Dianne Terwilliger was the Chair of the Women’s Committee at the time and Mary Larkin was the National Events Coordinator. There was opposition to the women’s match from USAR. I remember reading a letter from Mary to the women’s team making it clear that the stakes were high and the team was expected to present themselves in a professional manner. This is another example of the leaders at the time ‘plowing ahead’. They formalized the National Championships, started Territorials and, so of course, a National Team was next. I can’t stress enough how important those women leaders were to the game. The other thing I remember seeing in the 1988-89 files was a request to the USAR Executive Committee to demonstrate their support of the women’s program by attending games. I pointed out that members of the Canadian Executive Committee were attending games. Forming the World Cup team was a bit of back-and-forth because we didn’t know where the event would be. Initially the Cup was supposed to be played in New Zealand but, as we know, that didn’t happen. Then the England gals started to put the event together and sent an invitation. Barbara Bond who would go on to be the captain of the World Cup Team told me a story at the team’s 25th anniversary. Barb said that at the time, I told her I had an indication that the U.S, women would be invited and that I wondered how to respond. I am sure my thoughts immediately went to ‘how in the world would we afford to get the team there’ which would have seemed overwhelming to me. Her response was ‘YES!, YES!’ tell them we will attend. So, I did. We got a formal invitation, which had to be responded to by USARFU. Looking back, I’m sure it was a moment for USARFU because the invitation came from the WRFU, not the RFU. Because the women were still running our own show, although under the umbrella of USARFU, it would have been very difficult to stop us from going. I don’t recall anyone actually trying to do that. I had a pretty good relationship with the staff of USARFU and with some members of the Executive Committee, and they understood our determination. Bob Watkins sent a nice letter to the team after they won, praising the team not only for the victory but for raising the funds to go. We did enough to stay within the boundaries of the national organization but still control our own show. In the end, the World Cup cost about $38,000. I don’t believe that included the airfare for the players and suffice it to say, much of the trip was paid for by the players.
1988 Women's National Team
What were the greatest challenges you faced? Things you could not get done that haunt you? We could never get our hands around the fundraising piece. It just eluded us. As good as women were administratively, none of us had the connections or skill to raise money. We all had day jobs. The women were theoretically included in USAR contracts but it didn’t turn into any substantial money for the women so the national teams were treated poorly. What did you do after stepping down from the Women’s Committee? Between 1991 and 1993, I got my masters degree and by the end of that time I was just burnt out. So I knew I needed to rotate off the Women’s Committee – it was time. In 1993, I went to present at what was then the Asian-Pacific Rugby Congress in Calgary. Because the U.S. Women had won the first World Cup, I was asked to give a paper about women in the game to a bunch of men who REALLY didn’t give a shit about women’s rugby. My talk was met with no interest. But at dinner that night I sat down next to Michael Luke. We connected and soon we started dating. We had a five year, long distance relationship before we got married. Mike and I are now retired and live outside of Boston, MA. What do you think about the game today? Can you see the thread of your work? I can’t say that I feel connected to women’s rugby today. I have gone to every Women’s World Cup (with exception of the last one) and, as years go by, I feel further and further away. At the World Cups, I’ll meet with women I worked with from England and France; we get together for a drink, but we’re not connected to any team. I couldn’t begin to tell you how the game is organized today. I came back for a brief period in 2001 in National Team management. The volunteer job I got recruited for was large in scope and really should have been a full-time salaried position as it required the development of a system/program strategy, identification and selection process of players, and coordination of National Team management. I came in as a volunteer. That experience was rough, and it was a breaking point for me. I was done for good. However, a bright spot was after it imploded. I was a part of bringing in Kathy Flores as the first Women's National Team coach and arguably the most successful World Cup coach for the U.S, period.