This is part three of our series, ‘When Women Ran Their Own Game’ - ongoing commentary on women’s rugby history. In this series, we use documents and interviews to highlight the women who organized and administered women’s rugby in its first twenty years.
The first Women’s National Team was formed in 1987 and the first WNT captain was Kathy Flores. At the time, Kathy played for Florida State University, a dominant team throughout the 1980s. Kath was a well-regarded player and had been a captain on the 1985 WIVERN Tour. As a result, she had the respect of most, if not all, of the top players in the country. But the captaincy of the Women’s National Team was a low-key affair – there was no jersey ceremony or pronouncement, the Women’s Committee chose the captain(s) and notified the coaches.
One of the more interesting choices for a WNT captain was Barb Bond, one of two captains of the 1991 World Cup team (the other was Mary Sullivan, fullback from Beantown). Barb was a well-regarded #8 from California who was playing for the Bay Area SheHawks (BASH). She was 28 years old in 1991, which was young compared to many of the stars on the 1991 roster. Barb wasn’t as well known as many of the other players, perhaps a result of geography. In 1991, sans internet, the distance between California and the East Coast was immense and as a result, California players weren’t as well known as players from the East or Midwest. But Barb turned out to be a perfect choice for a team of stars. She was a dominant player on the field but a rather humble, cerebral, and approachable person off the field.
Where do you live: Alameda, California
Occupation: Emergency Physician
How did you start playing rugby?
I started playing in 1980-81 at Reed College, a small liberal arts school in Portland Oregon. Reed is not known for its athletic prowess, our school mascot was the Lemming. A women’s rugby team was being formed and I was recruited after wrestling the guys in my dorm for some Mint Milano cookies. I really hadn’t been an athlete in high school but I was completely hooked after the first practice.
Tell me a bit about your playing career.
I played at Reed for about 3 years and then with the Portland Zephyrs for a few years. In 1985 I moved to San Francisco and started playing for BASH. I played with BASH until 1998. We won 4 national championships during that time. In 1992-1993 I played for a club near Toulouse, France. We won the French national championship that year.
What WNT teams did you play for?
I may not get the dates exactly right but I made the first WNT as a reserve for the first Can/Am in Victoria, Canada in 1987 and then every year after until 1998
What was it like being named to the '91 WC team?
Well, it was always a relief to make it all the way through the selection process for any WNT squad. I was focused on the World Cup happening and the US success. It was touch and go if the World Cup would happen and if the US team would go. But beyond that stress, playing in a World Cup was a dream come true.
What was it like being named captain?
It felt like a huge responsibility and somewhat daunting because we had so little time to come together as a squad. I had never been in that sort of environment, I was talking with the media, and representing the US team in a number of ways. But we had great coaching and phenomenal players.
That wasn't your first WNT captaincy, what attributes did you bring to the position that made you a successful captain?
This is a hard question to answer but I think I was always very focused on the vision/goal for the team overall in terms of what we could accomplish together, what we needed to do to be successful and then I did my best to follow that direction. I was also a decent on-field strategist and motivator.
What was ‘91 WC like for you? What was most frustrating? What was most satisfying?
The ‘91 World Cup for me was a bit challenging but also such a rich and fulfilling experience. I wasn't in a great personal space at the time and felt somewhat isolated but, on the other hand, I LOVED rugby and rugby history and coming to Cardiff, Wales, seeing the statue of Gareth Edwards and Cardiff Arms park, playing other international sides (not only Canada which is all we had done to that point) was incredible. I loved the camaraderie with the other international players and the celebratory feeling of what we were all accomplishing just by holding the tournament. It definitely felt like the start of something important for women’s rugby. The match against NZ in the semi-final was the highlight in terms of the competition. The biggest frustration, but also motivation, was the way our side was treated by USA rugby. We had minimal financial support, and the warm-ups were such poor quality, sized wrong, and unlabeled. We had to sew shoe laces in the pant legs of some that were too long and iron USA lettering on the back. It was embarrassing but it fueled us. Much of the satisfaction came from succeeding despite the lack of support from USAR.
I also want to extend gratitude to all the amazing people who supported the US Women’s team both in Wales and at home. The Women’s Committee in the US who got us to Wales. To the women of the International Women’s Committee who willed the tournament into existence and to the Welsh women who did the hard work of organizing and hosting the tournament. If we had waited for World Rugby to say ‘yes’, who knows how long it would have taken to have the first Women’s Rugby World Cup. We might still be waiting.
The '91 team wasn't widely celebrated in your time - why was that?
I think it was a constellation of factors. USA rugby did not do much to promote the Women's National Team at the World Cup (an understatement to be sure), the World Cup was not officially sanctioned by the IRB (now World Rugby) women’s sports got very little coverage in the US press in general, let alone any coverage for a contact sport played by women many of whom were LGBTQ. It was disappointing but not unexpected.
How long did you play? When did you quit playing and why?
I played from 1980 to 1998. I stopped playing after starting medical school.
How did playing rugby influence your career?
It has had positive and negative effects on my career. The only real negative was that I delayed having a career probably longer than I should have because I was so focused on playing rugby and it took all my money and time. It took me a long time to apply to and get into medical school which was a dream, but I did eventually get there.
I took away from rugby the ability to work hard in a sustained way towards a challenging goal and the immense enjoyment of being part of a team of capable people who are accomplishing meaningful things together. During the early days of the COVID pandemic, I was very involved as clinical leader within our healthcare organization, and I was able to bring all of what I had learned from my rugby career to bear on helping to rapidly develop our COVID response. In emergency medicine, specifically, having played rugby has been helpful in a number of ways. One thing I can say is I’m not intimidated by rude or unruly patients.
Did you stay involved with rugby after retiring?
I served for a term on the USARFU Board of Directors during medical school as a player representative. I coached at Dartmouth briefly in 1993 and at UC Davis during medical school. I am interested in getting more involved now that I have more time.
I am married to my wife Karie. We have been together 27 years. We have 2 daughters, Amelia who is in her sophomore year at Smith College, and Charlotte who is a high school junior.