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  • Ernie Samora, Staff Writer

What even is a rugger? Checking in with Willamette Rugby

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Photo by Mary Vickery

You may have seen them practicing in the quad, heard their mighty chants from afar or have caught some of their infectious and vivacious energy across campus. It seems no matter where you turn, the ever-growing Willamette rugby teams are there, almost omnipresent. With each team having doubled in size this year and showing no signs of slowing growth, it is nearly impossible to miss them. However, after a slew of injuries in the 2022-23 school year, many had questioned the future of the sport at Willamette. With another year’s worth of experience under their belt, now is the perfect time to check in with Willamette rugby.

One of the most substantial changes going into the fall was the required addition of coaches by the league. Both Men’s Rugby and Willamette Rugby Football Club (WRFC) have added coaches to their respective rosters this season. The WRFC had a volunteer coach in the spring, but now, thanks to newly acquired ASWU funding, they are able to pay two coaches: Marcia Smith, a player on the local rugby team, the Salem Attack Owls, and Maddy “Buzz” Specht (‘23), a WRFC alum. Men’s Rugby now also boasts two coaches: Troy Martin, the parent of a current member and former rugger himself, and Maddie Almodovar (BA ‘16, MBA ‘17). Martin coaches during practices while Almodovar takes on game weekends.

Past injuries have created a stigma around the sport. In response, both teams have prioritized the safety of players above all else, a goal that is considerably easier to attain with two coaches each. Martin runs many safe drills and teaches players technique, further preventing future injury. I stopped by a Men’s Rugby practice where rugger Aiden Dopson (‘25) placed a particularly heavy emphasis on safety. “Our priority is the health and wellness of our players,” he said. Safety is especially important to consider in rugby as teams do not have access to athletic trainers and Bishop will lack a nurse until the spring.

Last season’s presidents and captains had no guidance, forced to learn how to run a team on their own. Now, both teams feel as if they are finally hitting their stride. “Overall, it’s a much improved experience,” said Men’s president Aiden Schubert (‘25). The WRFC is playing their first fall 15s season this year along with their normal spring sevens season. “We’ve gotten the ball rolling a little bit earlier,” said Catherine Myerson (‘24), co-president of WRFC.

Both teams also have had better luck securing funding, as they now have a better idea of how much money to ask for. Men’s Rugby now utilizes travel funds to rent vans, a luxury they did not have in years prior. However, even with this extra funding, rugby still finds itself struggling with a lack of resources. “It’s hard to request a ton of money from ASWU,” Myerson explained. “It used to be that we could just rent one van and now we’re renting three.” With limited funds available, teams cannot afford both a coach and registration, forcing rugby to switch to a pay-to-play model. Those wanting to play in games pay the $75 registration fee out of pocket.

However, ruggers have never been known to back down from a challenge. Teams are doing what they can in order to secure funds for those who may not be able to afford the registration fees. “We never want money to be a barrier,” said Myerson. This is especially important for WRFC, which goes to great lengths to make their club inclusive to anyone who wants to play. Volunteer opportunities at University of Oregon and Oregon State varsity games may be able to help with additional funding in the future. WRFC is also looking into selling merchandise in order to fundraise.

According to Men’s Club and WRFC leaders, the future's looking bright. “It’s gonna be incredible,” said Schubert. Myerson added, “There’s so much potential on the team and it’s very exciting.” If rugby sounds like the place for you, they are always accepting new players and encourage you to come to a practice. Men’s Rugby practices Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on the quad. Willamette Rugby Football Club practices Thursdays and Fridays on the quad, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and is open to all identities. No experience is necessary to join either team.

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