By Olivia Pinilis & Abigail Metcalf || Contributing Writers
The Franklin and Marshall Women’s Rugby Team has existed for 42 years. Up until five years ago, the team has carried itself through both fall and spring seasons without a coach. Ashley Letten, who coached York College women’s rugby for a number of years, stepped into the role of our coach in 2018 and has dedicated his time and experience in the rugby world to help develop us into a varsity-level group of athletes. We had an incredibly successful spring season in 2022, placing fourth in the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union championship held here at F&M. Just last fall (2022), we went 14-2, nearly undefeated even against varsity programs.
Still, F&M Women’s Rugby has had to rely on its own means of organization to keep the club afloat. Every tournament we have entered into or hosted has been possible because of the efforts of each and every player. We pay dues to National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) and extra for our club at the beginning of each season; we schedule our own transportation, practice times and locations, trainers, and more; we fundraise so that we can both support those who wish to play but are unable to commit financially, and purchase new and undamaged equipment— replacement for the hand-me-downs from the men’s team we formerly used. We were thrilled to host the large and demanding EPRU Championship tournament last spring, which was completely student-organized and consisted of around 10 teams traveling from throughout the tri-state area. Every field, athletic trainer, and vending option was present that day because of the efforts of the players, which, while challenging, is nothing new for us. We will be hosting this event again on April 15th, and are looking forward to proving our strong contention for the national championship tournament which will be held in Washington D.C. in late April.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we have grown to retain over 20 members each season for the past few years, in comparison to nearly half those numbers in previous years. Our club has a wide variety of players of many different athletic abilities, some of which have never played a sport before joining rugby. Furthermore, we pride ourselves in being welcoming to every identity and hold ourselves to a high standard of powerfully representing multiple minority groups on campus.
The collegiate rugby network, from our experience, has consistently shared a deep passion for spreading the word about this wonderful sport and, moreover, the women and gender minorities who keep it alive. As empowered as many of us feel to be on an F&M team representing strong and resilient female athletes, many of our aspirations that have taken years to reach are made easily possible for teams with varsity status. It is clear from the conversations we have had and seen amongst other teams within the EPRU that this issue is not just confined to Franklin & Marshall. The Princeton women’s rugby team, for example, began pushing for varsity status in 2018, following their 42 years of being an incredibly successful club. Once they retained this status in the spring of 2021, they were able to play at the Division I level in the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA). Aside from team and player statistics, they argued that Princeton’s supposed compliance with Title IX did not align with the unequal balance between male and female athletes, which was 32% more male at the time. Many conversations regarding F&M’s compliance with Title IX have been had between us and the college, but the question of whether or not F&M will work to ensure an equal ratio between male and female athletic opportunities remains.
We do not wish to condemn the college or other varsity teams for the challenges faced by our team. We only hope to get our name out there as a group of talented and dedicated individuals who have, for many years, been fighting for the recognition and opportunities that we strongly believe are deserved. We love representing successful and hard-working F&M student-athletes. We love the power that women’s rugby exudes. And most importantly, we love the found family that this club has built over the last four decades. With varsity status comes funding, recruitment, and wider-reaching opportunities for students. But on a more personal level, we’d be able to feel acknowledged for our long-standing, student-run organization that functions for the sole purpose of establishing a safe, empowering, dynamic, and loving space for anyone who seeks that kind of family, which we are confident will only grow from here.