Rugby, a full contact sport in which you get tackled and thrown to the ground without the cushion of pads. It is not rare for players to end games pretty beat up, their frames decorated with bruises of all colors. Even more, the physical pain typically reaches its zenith right from the start when one is still in the process of learning how to employ certain skills and control contact. Needless to say, rugby is not for the faint of heart.
Within our own university campus, the women’s rugby team is taking hits and giving them right back. With both a spring and fall season, the women’s rugby team, which is composed of around twenty-five girls, participates in matches against other universities like UIC, Northwestern, DePaul, and Loyola in addition to club teams. Leading the team is 4th year captain Mara Sanders and her co-captain, Vanessa Bernick.
A Public Policy major hailing from Minneapolis, Mara began playing rugby her freshman year at the UChicago. Viewing the sport as an excuse to run around and tumble in the mud, Mara joined the team upon learning that there were no expectations of experience and that the players were willing to teach the rules of the game to complete beginners. Additionally, as rugby is a positional sport, Mara discovered that there were spots for everyone. Strong, hard-hitting girls are designated as “forwards” while the “backs” are those with quick feet and good ball-handling skills.
Many people are initially intimidated by rugby, regarding it as a rough, not to mention painful, sport. Although Mara confesses that she has received more than a couple hits during her time on the team, she also believes that the majority of pain stems from the initial shock factor of getting hit. Instead of dwelling in the shock, Mara has learned how to “shake it off”, accepting and then playing through the temporary pain. Rugby has allowed Mara to realize that her body is much tougher than she initially thought. To ensure safety, however, there are rules forbidding any flagrant activity that could seriously injure a player–such as tackling someone around the neck–since the players do not have anything to temper their hits and falls. It is thus natural that sportsmanship is taken particularly seriously.
The women’s rugby team at UChicago holds several traditions, a popular one being the prom dress scrimmage held between the team members. When the season is over in spring, the girls visit thrift stores in search of old, tacky prom dresses. Once the ladies have donned their gowns, they are split into two teams, individuals playing positions that they regularly may not play. Aside from the playful prom dress match, the women’s team supports the rugby tradition of hosting socials after games. With pizza and drinks in hand, the different teams get to know each other in a casual, non-competitive setting and celebrate with drinking songs, Mara explaining that each girl is assigned her own verse to boldly belt out.
The post-match festivities are a part of the overall social scene engendered by the women’s rugby team. In addition to acting as a form of physical release and exercise, rugby has been a valuable social outlet for Mara. As the team practices two to three times a week depending on the season and embarks on out-of-town tournaments, Mara has spent a hefty amount of her time at UChicago with her teammates. The moments the ladies have spent on the field, in lengthy car rides, and at social functions have allowed Mara to develop close friendships with the rugby girls, proving that those who take hits together, stay together.