February 5, 2020 is National Girls & Women in Sports Day, powered by the Women's Sports Foundation.
By Kerri Heffernan
It takes a village to raise a child. I was lucky enough to live in a village with a kick ass women’s rugby team.
My daughter has been barraged with images of the ideal women’s body since the moment she could process information, images that tended to glorify thinness. Around 10th grade, my daughter Macey went from a thin girl to a curvy teenager, but that change didn’t really phase her. I think much of that had to do with her exposure to rugby.
I started bringing Macey to rugby games and practices when she was two years old. She spent the next twelve years of her childhood on the sidelines. Weekends and vacations revolved around rugby. Her babysitters were rugby players. Sometimes I felt guilty, like the many Sundays I tried to turn washing the team uniforms into a fun game of ‘name that stain!’ (blood or mud?), or turned off cartoons and turned on game film. But she assures me now that she was all good with it – she loved being around rugby, she loved being identified with rugby. She wore my rugby sweatshirts and jackets to school and was on a first name basis with players and coaches. When she was eight, her Halloween costume was ‘Emilie Bydwell.’
My daughter is now a senior in high school and she wrote her college essay about growing up around rugby players. The title of her essay is “The Bold Beautiful Beasts that Taught Me to Love My Body.” Her essay is a tribute to all those muddy, sweaty, amazing women who shaped her ideas about friendship, her body and power. Her essay opens with: “My earliest memories are of squeezing my head between their knees to get into the sweaty circle they’d form before and after practices and games. It was often muddy and cold, and I remember the sweat steaming off them and the f-bombs they were dropping.”
Later in the essay she writes: “Big or small, they were never ashamed of their size or tried to hide their muscles or bruises. I thought big shoulders and legs like tree trunks were normal for women. They were loud. Before games started, they would slip tight jerseys on over shoulder pads and transform into superheroes. I watched them tackle and hit, not just opposing teams but also each other in practice. They’d yell at one another, not in anger but with urgency, “Get here now!” I wanted to be like those women: powerful, courageous, loyal, taking care of each other, expecting to win and dropping an occasional f-bomb."
Like a lot of teenagers, my daughter struggled with images of what women are supposed to ‘be like,’ look like and care about. But being around women’s rugby for all those years seemed to inoculate her against the weird and limited culture of beauty that undermines so many young girls. She sees her body as functional and powerful, not merely ornamental. She’s the captain of her lacrosse team and understands that other girls - her teammates - are her allies, not rivals, and that ‘it’s good’ to hold teammates accountable for their actions or inactions. Her idea of power is the rugby circle, strong women arm-in-arm, before and after a game, looking each other in the eye, holding on to each other for strength and courage before that moment when they release each other with the understanding that each can be counted on.
We at WRCRA occasionally hear “why should I join?” Which makes me sad. I think, why would you not want to be part of this? Showing up and standing up for girls and women’s rugby not just as individuals but as a community. Arm-in-arm we are working together for equity, opportunity and some control over our destiny. Individually we’re strong, but when we come together as a community we are a force. We are what women are supposed to ‘be like’, look like, and care about - women who don’t just inspire girls but show them how to be powerful.
In addition to the day-to-day running of a membership organization, we have several big projects in progress and planned for the future:
Ongoing Balance the Board Initiative
Women’s Rugby History Project
2021 WRCRA Conference
We are the past, present and future of women’s rugby. We bring the community together and stand as one. Our singular, primary goal is to ensure that girls and women in any position and at all levels of the game have a professional home.
For more information about WRCRA, visit our membership page.