Women Tackle Rugby

Following success of Shaker’s men’s team, junior soccer player Rachel Elson creates rugby club for girls


Matthew DeBarr/Rugby Ohio

A member of the Parma High School women’s rugby team, the Flamingos, struggles to escape the grasp of two St. Joseph Academy Jaguar opponents. Shaker’s women’s rugby team will compete against St. Joseph in Division II play.

The most rugged of sports is branching out at Shaker.

From 4-6 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, a dedicated group of students converges on the turf for rugby practice. In the past, the Shaker men’s rugby team has achieved much success, making it to state quarterfinals last spring. Now, women are taking the field.

The women’s rugby club was organized by Junior Rachel Elson. “It was a spontaneous decision one day,” said Elson, who is also a member of the women’s varsity soccer team. “I was worried about getting burned out playing club soccer, but I wanted to stay active,” she said.

“It’s good try something new,”  she said.

Women’s rugby, while a relatively new phenomenon in Shaker, has been growing in popularity throughout the area. According a May 2013 Plain Dealer article, teams from Parma, Lakewood and St. Joseph Academy competed in the National High School Rugby Girls Championships in Wisconsin last May. The Lakewood Girls Rugby Club has been state champions seven times and were national runners up in 2012. The Iron Maidens, or the Cleveland Women’s Rugby Football Club, has been active since 2003 and is considered the premier senior women’s team in Ohio.

The growth of women in the sport is not  relegated to Ohio, however. In August 2009, the International Olympic Committee announced that seven-a-side rugby will be included for the first time since 1924 in the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, with the inclusion of a women’s tournament.

Elson said the process of getting the Shaker club approved was “surprisingly easy.” The biggest challenge has been getting people to commit to the club.

“At the beginning we had a lot [of participants], but since then, it’s been fluctuating,” said Elson. “We know we can do it.”

Jessica O’Brien, history teacher and rugby coach, share’s Elson’s sentiments “We’ve had 16 at the most,”  said O’Brien, who played rugby all of her four years at  Kent State University and a was a member of the All-Ohio team.

“People say it’s football without pads, but it’s more complicated,”  O’Brien said.

While rugby is seen as a dangerous sport, O’Brien does not feel that prospective players should worry about potential injuries. She stated that “as long as they follow proper procedure,” injuries would not be a problem.

In an email interview, Evan Seballos, captain of the men’s team, agreed that injuries were preventable  “As a player myself, I know that injuries in rugby are only a concern when one does not play smart or use proper technique when tackling or in other types of contact,” Seballos said.

“Women’s rugby is just as physical as men’s rugby, so the injury risks are the same for both genders. These risks can be minimized by smart play … and by having solid fundamentals for tackling,” Seballos said.

“People get hurt. It’s part of playing a contact sport,” said Geoffery Gainford, coach of the men’s club. “There’s no way you can avoid it. All you can do is coach the girls or the guys to avoid them.”

“It’s just the nature of the sport,” Gainford said.

Gainford is pleased with girls’ interest in the sport. “It’s fairly exciting,” Gainford said. “They’ve come to practice and listened to coaches. They practice hard and are starting to pick it up.”

“I can see that the girls have no problem learning the rules of rugby and have caught on quickly to the many facets of the game,” said Seballos. “Both the men’s and women’s teams have high expectations for this year, and have been working hard in preparation of the spring season.”

Club members emphasized that they welcome more athletes. “It’s a fun sport and easy to learn, and there are many different positions, for people of any size or ability,” said Seballos. “It’s never too late to join.”

Said Elson, “Come to practice! It’s not as scary as you think.”

Comment using your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL or Hotmail account