Women’s Rugby: We’re not a cult

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Women’s Rugby: We’re not a cult

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When I started my first semester at Johnson, I didn’t have any intention of playing a sport in college and didn’t think there was much anyone could do to convince me. That was until I was walking around campus on Orientation Weekend and saw a group of women throwing around what appeared to be a large, oddly shaped football.

Upon approaching them, they eagerly invited me to toss the ball with them. I don’t consider myself to be very athletic and I’d always thought I had terrible hand-eye coordination, but I figured since the ball measured approximately 11 inches long, my odds of being able to catch it would be higher. Their smiling, welcoming faces also persuaded me to give it a try. I started the sport not knowing anything about the logistics, but had heard some interesting things about the rugby team at Johnson.

There are some stereotypes about women’s rugby that should be addressed. The reasons why women play this rough sport are as varied as the participants. Women from the rugby team shed light on what it means to be a rugger at Johnson.
President of the club, Faith Fair, says “I play rugby because people told me I probably couldn’t because I was too small. Part of it was wanting to prove people wrong. The other part was once I started playing I was so impressed by the number of things my body could do.” The stereotype of women players being bigger and tougher doesn’t ring true when it comes to one’s ability to play the sport. Johnson’s players range from 5’0” to 5’8” and the players don’t consider height or size to be an impediment in their abilities. Players of all shapes, sizes, and experiences can join and become tougher and stronger than they think they are capable of.

Another player on the team, Emilie Manchester, is a senior and has been playing since the fall of her sophomore year. The 5’7” brunette joined to meet people. “I play to stay fit,” she said. “I also started playing to have a little more connections on campus because I didn’t do any sports or join any clubs my freshman year so I started playing to have a little bit more friends, but it also turned into a huge community of people that I really love a whole lot.” This seems to be a running theme with most of the women on the team.

Others on the team have also joined for the camaraderie. “I play rugby because it’s a huge family,” said Melenie Peters. “When I came to Johnson, I didn’t have a lot of friends and it was kind of weird not having a group to belong to and I started playing rugby and I just immediately got accepted by everybody. So it was kind of nice to have that friend group.” Rugby can be a great way to make friends and the women on the team all seem very close- so close that some believe women’s rugby is a cult.

If one doesn’t understand the sport of rugby, chances are that they don’t understand the sense of unity that comes along with the sport. The women on the rugby team prefer to call their team a family. To whether or not women’s rugby is a cult, “No. You hear that so many times… it’s definitely not a cult,” Manchester said. “We all sing rugby songs and do a whole bunch of different things together, but it’s not a cult. It’s a sisterhood.”

The sport can be intimidating because of its somewhat violent nature and lack of protective gear, but don’t be fooled into thinking that means the club is a cult. People register the word “cult” as an unsavory word, but the sport can actually be very pleasant and doesn’t deserve the negative connotation that goes with the word “cult.”

“I’ve heard this being thrown around campus, but it’s ridiculous,” said Shayle Dery-Roystan, a petite girl with long and curly dirty-blonde hair. “When I came to the first practice to see if I wanted to join, it looked like teamwork, not a cult. I think that it may be the fact that everyone is so dedicated to the game and the team. We do have socials pretty often so that may say something. Also, the fact that we’re so persistent about people joining. Even though it’s really because we need people.”
If you think that rugby secretly means that you’re joining a cult, then the sport is not for you. If you like the sound of working hard to improve your body’s abilities and being supported by great people, then you should try it out.

A way to describe it as something other than a cult is “Family, because we definitely rely on each other a lot and there’s an expectation that you do put in a certain amount of effort, but we do a lot to support each other,” Fair said. An important thing to remember is that the team is very inclusive and everyone can leave of their own free will at any given time.

“Within our team, there is no cult vibe at all. Unlike a cult, our team does not enforce any specific beliefs on the people that play, and there are no mandatory actions or motives that are placed on the players,” said Nerissa Coolbeth. “Our goal is to play the game and have a strong bond with our teammates that improves our performance in our seasons. I would describe it as a large support system of people who have each other’s best interests in mind.” The team’s closeness isn’t representative of a cult. The team stands for unity and teamwork. “My favorite thing about the sport is how much fun I have with the team,” said Coolbeth. “No matter the outcome of a game, or how hard practice is, we are always making each other smile and lifting each other’s spirits.”

What some may not understand about the women’s sport is that one does not need to be aggressive by nature to play. The team was created to provide a caring, fun outlet for women at Johnson. The outlet doesn’t necessarily have to be aggression. Sometimes the team’s closeness can be questioned because of the brutality of the sport. The team says injuries are a minor downside and don’t impact their relationships with one another.

“We all know that it is part of the game and we know that that is what we signed up for, so we just take each tackle with a grain of salt,” said an early college student, Ruby Stearns.

Injuries happen in every sport. They are more common with rugby because players are limited to a mouth guard for protective gear. No one takes it personally when injuries occur.

“We are never deliberately hurting one another or anyone in fact. That is not at all the goal of the game,” said Coolbeth. “Obviously injuries happen, but we know that there were no ill intentions and that it is just a risk of playing this game. Since we know that we would never mean to hurt one another, I don’t think that these accidents have an impact on our personal relationships.”

There is a physical aspect to rugby that a lot of other women’s sports don’t provide. Sports such as hockey that are considered contact sports don’t allow women to bodycheck. Many sports share this sexist attribute, but not rugby. Many people are misled to think that women have to be aggressive to play rugby, but that is simply not the case. It is probably because in other sports, being brutally physical isn’t allowed. It’s not to say that women don’t have aggressive tendencies. It comes down to the rules and ways of the sport.

Manchester believes it can be an aggressive sport, but that it isn’t her motivation to play. “For aggressive people, yes. I think it’s definitely a good outlet,” said Manchester. “It kind of calms you down a little bit, you get to hit people, which you wouldn’t be able to do in a normal setting. You can tackle somebody… you get to hit people and it just makes you feel so much better afterward.” Some rugby players can be considered aggressive people or players, but aggression isn’t a requirement to play the sport.

“I don’t consider myself to be an aggressive person. I’m actually a very peaceful person. I’m a pacifist, but it’s a good way to let out a lot of pent up anger or frustration you have during the school year or work or anything,” said Peters. If you are interested in the sport simply for the aggressive aspect, there’s plenty of it. Letting out anger isn’t what motivates the Johnson Jugs though.

Even if you don’t consider yourself to be athletic, aggressive, or the right size, anyone can try out rugby. The team is very welcoming and always willing to help on and off the field. If you’re interested in joining a club sport with great women who support each other, join Northern Vermont University- Johnson’s Women’s Rugby Club. Practices will be held this spring on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If someone says you’re too small, not athletic enough, or not aggressive enough, just tackle them.

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