Rugby was a varsity sport until an unfortunate automobile accident took the life of a male player while the team was competing in a tournament near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The school voted to remove the varsity status of both rugby teams until sanctioning rugby as club sport earlier this year.
The team continued to run "underground," which means without school sanctioning or funding, for the next sixteen years. The SGA gave the team a "generous" stipend of $1700 to cover expenses.
The problem is, the money is not enough to cover the debts that have accrued over the previous 16 seasons. The women find themselves paying for some of their own jerseys as well as covering some traveling expenses. The other key expense engulfing the budget is the mandatory insurance the team purchased from the USA Rugby Union.
What does being a club sport mean compared to being a varsity sport? There is, of course, the limited funding, but the rugby team has only an advisor in lieu of a coach. As a result, the players are largely responsible for running the team. The team also doesn't have access to the physical trainers that all St. Olaf varsity sports do.
The team is made up of 25 players, of which a dozen are first year student/athletes. The lack of experience is one of their biggest obstacles, but the team's youth is also one of its greatest strengths. The team remains optimistic for the future and only looks to get better as time goes on.
"We play because we love to play. We will continue to play the game whether we are sanctioned or not." This is the testimonial of First -years Liz Herman and Jacquie Spielman. Spielman expressed that rugby is an important part of the sports scene at St. Olaf because it helps develop a keen sense of community. Herman added, We are optimistic about becoming a part of the St. Olaf tradition.
While it is clear this team is dedicated, they will need more support from the school if they wish to ascend to the next level. The student body is still largely unaware of that the rugby team even exists. They can't have home games because the college is unable to provide an appropriate field. This makes it nearly impossible for the team to gain support. Speilman echoed this thought by saying, "If no one is able to watch us play, we can't gain a legitimate fan base." However, slowly, the women's rugby team is working its way into the minds of the St. Olaf community. "We are thankful for the recent increase in awareness that has accompanied the press coverage and only hope that the support continues to grow," added Herman.
Sadly, more problems are brewing on the horizon for womenís rugby. The team stands to lose seven upperclassmen in leadership positions as the result of either graduation or study abroad programs. The most dramatic loss stands to be Sophomore Kelsey Richardson. While there have been difficulties and disagreements with the college, the team is very thankful for what they have been given and they think this is a step in the right direction to regain they former varsity status. No matter what barrier is next in the team's quest, be it funding, support, or simply finding leadership, they are determined to succeed. With the youth and dedication of this team, it wouldn't be wise to bet against them.