True Story Series; Dudes We Love
Six men who helped build women's rugby
Kevin O’Brien – The Leader
Kevin O’Brien has been at the forefront of women’s rugby history since 1978. What started as helping out at a few Beantown practices quickly evolved into building a dynasty, winning four National Championships. As the wins mounted Kevin began coaching local and territorial select sides and reimagining the bar for the women’s game. He was a consensus choice to coach the first Women’s National side match in 1987, a 22-3 win over Canada. He was the US national team coach from 1987-1993, coaching 4, future Hall of Fame players. Kevin is best known as the coach to lead the US women to victory in the first Women’s World Cup.
It has been a great privilege to play for Kevin. He was the consummate teacher, he never yelled, he corrected us with kindness and humor. He instilled in us the importance of having pride in every aspect of our play. Post-game we’d gather around Kevin with pints of beer while he diagramed backrow plays with condiments. We were devoted to him and to one another – it was an extraordinary experience for which I am truly grateful. His devotion went beyond Beantown, his devotion was to the game. So, it was no surprise that in 2021 Kevin was chosen for the USRF Rugby Hall of Fame.
Kevin has the respect of the entire women’s rugby community as well as our gratitude and love.
Emil Signes – The Visionary
Every team Emil coached was much like him, creative and competitive. They epitomized the adage, look sharp, play sharp. Emil is a transcendent coach and a ‘sharp’ man. He has a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree from MIT, and a PhD from Rutgers University. While a successful 15’s coach for over 30 years Emil is synonymous with 7’s. In 1986 he founded Atlantis Rugby and began laying the foundation for international women’s 7’s. The extent of his 7’s coaching is mind boggling.
"Between 1986 and mid-2014 Atlantis – men, women, boys, girls – fielded 206 squads at 145 tournaments in 31 different countries. Between 7s and 15s, men and women, club and All-Star, his teams have won 14 national championships." (Wendy Young, 2014, Scrumhalf Connection)
Rugby owes such a debt to Emil. As Alex Goff noted, "Rugby would not be an Olympic sport without the women, and women would not have an international 7s presence were it not for one man – Emil Signes." (Alex Goff, Rugby Magazine, 2009)
Steve Cohen – The Mentor
Steve Cohen has been in the middle of women’s rugby history since 1972. He started playing in Schenectady in 1969. In 1972, Steve found himself advising the burgeoning Colorado State women’s team, the first women’s team in the country. Steve offered, ‘I xeroxed every bit of info I had for them’. In 1976 Steve moved to Ann Arbor to play with University of Michigan and begin his refereeing career. Steve increasingly found himself refereeing women’s matches and becoming a fan of women’s rugby. When the Chicago Women launched the first women's national championship in 1979 the organizers approached Steve to be the head referee and recruit other referees ‘friendly to women’s rugby’. Steve stayed in the head referee role until 1982 endearing himself to the women’s rugby community for his willingness to risk his own referee career to cross lines and referee women’s games. Along the way Steve co-founded the University of Michigan Women’s team and began mentoring a number of aspiring women referees. He organized numerous referee training clinics, as well as the first-ever National Referees Seminar. He soon moved into administration and founded the D2 and D3 collegiate rugby championships. Steve has served as the President and CEO of NSCRO and more recently as the founder of NCR. In 2022 Steve was inducted in the USRF Rugby Hall of Fame.
Bryn Chivers – The Artist
Trained as a sculptor, Bryn tends to see what others miss. His over forty years of work on behalf of women’s rugby is something beautiful to behold. Bryn began coaching the University of Michigan in1982. In 1991 he took Michigan to the finals of the first, collegiate national championship. Shortly after, Bryn organized and coached the first Midwest U23 side and became a strong advocate for growing territorial U23 and U20 sides, ultimately his advocacy and work led to the establishment of a National U20 and U23 side. Not surprising, he coached the USA Rugby U20 Women's National Teams from 2005 to 2012. In his role as U20 national team coach he identified and coached some storied US players. Bryn served as the NSCRO Director of Women's Rugby from 2014 to 2020. He’s won five USA Rugby national championships and one NSCRO national title. While he’s often identified with college and U20/U23 rugby, Bryn was a respected club coach as well, moving Chicago Northshore from a struggling side to a perennial WPL powerhouse. Bryn recently accepted a position at Wayne State University directing the men’s and women’s rugby program. It’s time for the artist to make something beautiful.
Karl Barth – The Teacher
Karl Barth is a complete teacher. He creates classrooms and lessons that impact players well beyond the pitch. He began coaching the Summit High School Girls team in 1997. While Karl saw the potential for girls’ high school rugby, he was moved by the commitment of the Summit girls. Since Karl took the reins of the Summit program, the girls have won fifteen state championships and numerous tournaments outside of Colorado. Eighty-four Summit players have received scholarships to play at NIRA, D1 Elite, D1 and D2 programs. Understandably, Karl was chosen as the first Head Coach of the US U19 program and Defensive Coach for the U20 women. But wait! There’s more! Karl’s coaching resume includes coaching the ERRFU (Eastern Rockies) U23 women and U19 women, the U19 and 23 West Women, Tiger Rugby Women 7’s, ARPTC 7’s, APEX U18 (15/7’s), Atlantis U19 Women, Hawkeye U16 Women, and the Stars & Stripes 7’s. His 30-year commitment to youth rugby has changed the face of women’s rugby in the US and he shows no signs of slowing down. As Wendy Young recently noted, "Today, women’s rugby in the United States stands stronger than ever, a testament to the collective efforts of individuals like Karl Barth and the Summit High School girls rugby program."
Pete Steinberg – The Architect
Pete Steinberg won 11 National Collegiate Championships. Eleven. Ten D1 Championships with Penn State and one D2 Championship with Temple University. In addition, the Penn State women have been the National runner-up nine times. The PSU women have been to twenty finals in thirty years, most of those under Pete’s tutelage – that’s dominance. It must have been daunting to join a Penn State team during the 2000’s; the level of coaching, the expectation and promise of playing for a National Championship; being a part of a program built to reflect the best of women’s rugby. Pete’s years of success at the collegiate level and his unique player-centered coaching style soon brought the US national team knocking, Pete took over the US Women’s 15’s team in 2011 and immediately began building toward the 2014 World Cup in Paris. In 2016 Pete was an assistant coach with the Women’s Olympic 7’s team. In the 2017 World Cup he took the US women to the semifinals. While his coaching touch was gold, Pete should also be celebrated for his commitment to developing the Elite Coaching Development Program as part of the women’s national team. The program brought coaches to national team camps for shadowing and assistant coaching opportunities opening up pathways for women coaches. Pete saw what needed to be done and took it upon himself to build it.
The U.S. Women’s Rugby Foundation (USWRF) celebrated their 50th anniversary of women’s rugby in 2022. This has been a historic milestone – one of which we have all played a part.
Join us as we champion the future for the next generation.
Pop-Up Museum Highlights
Check out photos and videos of visitor reactions when we took our popup museum on the road to Atlanta GA, Clinton NJ, Chicago Il & Washington DC.
Credit: Ethan Mediaworks Photos
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