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Friday Feelings: Women Try New Sports Like Rugby

May 26, 2023
The Uticuse Rugby Scrum Machine with Jae (left), Tracy (middle), Rossi (right)

As I topped the tall hill, two flat playing fields (aka “pitches”) lay ready. Approaching the one with the two yellow goalposts on either end like the YouTube video I watched to prepare myself, I saw my cousin Paige, dressed in her former rugby cleats standing near an oblong football much bigger than a regular American football. I knew I was in the right spot to try rugby for the first time.

My first impression of rugby was at college when the men’s team would crazily be dancing around an Indian statue – their mascot of some sort – in a bar on a Friday night. My feeling was they weren’t crazy, but the sport they liked playing must be crazy because that is how they identified themselves as a team when games and practice weren’t in session. So, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on a balmy May night on the “pitch” in Syracuse.

Like most of the team sports I’ve tried, practice started with simple passing and running drills. In the case of rugby where the ball is larger and is thrown in a unique spiral, getting my hands around it and trying it out was my first lesson. I wasn’t horrible at it since my father, a football coach, taught me how to throw a mean football spiral growing up. I could handle the throw and motion until the passing drills of running while throwing the ball in a timely order to teammates in a moving line sped up my work. And in rugby, the ball must be thrown behind or to your side, not in front, so timing is essential to get down.

Jae of Uticuse Rugby Club – Our Leader for the Night

Once the throws and simple running drills were done, we practiced running more advanced sequences of drills of passing and pocketing behind a teammate repeatedly until we hit the other side. If anyone dropped the ball, a “half-moon” exercise was given to the team. I definitely contributed to the half-moon workout which was basically a burpee plus a half-squat turn in both directions upon standing – thus the soreness in my thighs today.

After practicing the offensive drills, we turned to defensive drills learning the importance of working in a line to stop the offensive players from coming through. This is where my age and lack of quickness slowed me down. Running forward is one thing, trying to run as fast as the offensive line trying to catch up with them was another. Thank God their full-body tackling exercises were last week. When asked if anyone has gotten really hurt tackling without pads, I heard a few horror stories but not as many as you’d think. “Tracy, the old girls play just touch and not tackle,” a few of them told me. Yeah, that might be where I belong, I thought if I wanted to continue playing.

As the hazy sun started setting after two hours of a really fun time, they took me over to the “scrum machine” to give me a taste of what a scrum feels like. A scrum is a method of restarting play in rugby football that involves players packing closely together with their heads down and attempting to gain possession of the ball. With two teammates on my side, we maneuvered into the machine for the feeling and a photo opportunity. This is where I knew for sure you must have strong legs for rugby.

Tracy Chamberlain Higginbotham (with ball) joined the Uticuse Rugby Club to try their sport

Playing along with a team of great girls reminded me why I love all women’s communities because bonds develop quickly and you want them to linger. So, I accepted their invitation to a restaurant across the pitch for food and drinks. It’s there I learned more about a few of the players and enjoyed the casual conversation. My cousin Paige said, “This happens after all rugby games – both teams coming together afterward to share in the experience and get to know each other.”  

As I said goodbye to my rugby pals, they handed me my own rugby ball to keep for practice and invited me back anytime to play with them. I told them I would join cheering them on at a special fundraiser they host annually for a cancer patient called “Ruck Cancer,” and perhaps rejoin them for another great night of running, passing, scrumming, and bonding on and off the field.

Tracy Chamberlain Higginbotham, Founder Women’s Athletic Network with her rugby ball
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