By WRCRA Staff
There is no more fitting result of the growth of women's rugby than the influx of a second generation of players who, for all intents and purposes, were raised on the game. In two such cases, their mothers not only played rugby but were responsible for the founding of teams and championships, building the foundation on which women's rugby has grown. We asked WRCRA members Gwen Gunter and MaryBeth Mathews, along with their kids EllisJean Gunter and Katie Mathews, to tell us a little bit about their shared love of this sport.
We intend for this to be a regular series, featuring mothers and sons as well as fathers and daughters with the goal of showcasing how women's rugby spans generations. WRCRA members, if you would like to share your own stories, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not a member? Learn more here.
Gwen Gunter and EllisJean Gunter
Name: Gwen Gunter
Years Playing: 22 years
Teams: Chicago, University of Minnesota and the Amazons, Midwest Select Side, Eagles
Years Coaching: 4 years
Teams Coached: Southside Sabers High School
What is it like watching your daughter play?
Ellis started off playing football. She was a natural tackler. She recorded 11 sacks in one season. But after her sophomore year the boys started growing and she decided she wanted to play rugby. Before our first game, the other coaches came to me and suggested that Ellis play scrumhalf because she was our best athlete. I thought, scrum half, best athlete, what?? We decided to go a different route and Ellis played inside center, which is where I started as a young player. She was all over the pitch, making tackles, digging the ball out of rucks and passing to the backs. It was incredible. But I am pretty biased. So I sent her to Brown University summer camp for a week with Kathy Flores. If Kathy thinks she's good, well, she's good! Kathy gave her the nod.
I was her coach as well as her mom. That was tough because as her mother I don't want her to get hurt but as her coach I want her to leave everything out on the field. Sometimes when I watch her play I think to myself, how does she know how to do that? She has a really good nose for the ball and when I watch her play I feel very proud and humble. She’s very unselfish with the ball. She's a good player but a better teammate.
Name: EllisJean Gunter
Years Playing: 3 years
Teams: Southside Sabers(HS), Midwest Allstars and Life University; Invited to the All American camp in San Diego
Best Memories/Accomplishments: Being inviting to an Eagle camp in San Diego; Scoring the winning try to send my team to State!
MaryBeth Mathews and Katie Mathews
Name: MaryBeth (Staid) Mathews
Years Playing: 14 (1976-86; 1988-89, 1991-92)
Teams: Beantown (1976), Portland, Maine (1977-85), Beantown (1988-89 and 1990-92), New England Select Side, USA East Select Side
Position: Fullback, Flyhalf, Wing, #8
Best Playing Memories/Accomplishments: Winning the first Women’s Club National Championship in Chicago with Portland in 1978 by defeating four teams and only allowing 7 points total; Singing and touring with members of Portland, Boston and Beantown.
Years Coaching: 25 (1994-present)
Teams Coached: Bowdoin College, Maine U-23, NERFU U-23, NRU U-23
Best Coaching Memories/Accomplishments: Seeing them win countless NERFU Championships, Conference Championships, and competing at USAR Final Fours; Knowing what the team accomplished when they beat Rutgers and Marist to advance to the Final Four; Most importantly, watching the women who choose to play rugby at Bowdoin grow their confidence, find their strengths, make friends for life and continue becoming their very best selves long after graduation!
What is it like watching your daughter play?
To watch her play, I feel incredibly lucky and proud. Katie’s athletic roots were in gymnastics and she played soccer, basketball and lacrosse but since age 4, she also came to every Bowdoin rugby practice and game, watched rugby videos with her parents, and was always a student of the game. In junior high school, she was designing back plays so the team gave her a clipboard and made her an honorary assistant coach. Because of this background, when she joined the team at Bowdoin, she had a ‘leg-up’ on knowing the game. I love that at #10 she can read defenses, kick to space, and she understands how to set up others to score; she loves defense and is still today one of the best tacklers I’ve ever seen.
As a coach and a dean at Bowdoin, and with her father as an assistant rugby coach, we tried very hard to let Katie have her own experience at college and definitely took off the ‘parent’ hat for coaching rugby, but it’s still hard because you want so much for your children to learn, grow and succeed. She’s a bigger, stronger and better player than I was and is great fun to watch! In the end, she always made me proud, on the pitch whether playing or helping others, in the classroom, playing after college, and now coaching and refereeing.
Name: Katie Mathews
Years Played: I officially played 5 years…but have been attending practices with my mom since age 4.
Teams: Bowdoin College RFC and Beantown RFC.
Best Memories/Accomplishments: Being named a Division II USA Rugby All-American; Playing under both of my parents and establishing great player/coach relationships.
What’s it like knowing your mom was a rugby goddess? Did you ever see her play and what was that like?
It has been inspiring, knowing all that my mom has done for rugby, first as a player and team leader, and then as a coach. She has always pushed the boundaries and demanded more for women’s rugby, demanded what the sport and its athletes deserve, and I’m so proud to be her daughter. I never got to see her play, but I watched her coach at Bowdoin from age 4 to age 18, and then I was coached by her from age 18-22 at college. Even before I was coached by her, I learned so much about the game from watching and listening to her coach hundreds of young student athletes over the years. And along the way I’ve watched as she took her college program from club to varsity, started a brand-new women’s rugby league (ACRA), and helped start the first varsity women’s rugby conference (NIRA). No matter how much she has accomplished, she always sees more growth potential for the women’s game and fights tirelessly for the recognition and equitable support it should be given. She is truly a rugby/women’s sports warrior.