This year Play Rugby USA celebrates a decade of Developing Youth Through Rugby!
Countless individuals have contributed to our success, and in honor of National Women’s History Month & International Women’s Day on March 8 we look back at the incredible women who have helped us fulfill our mission over the past decade, and take a look at the inspirational women and girls who are making history as part of our community today!
Play Rugby USA began working in schools in 2005 and in the beginning our coaching staff was something of a boys club! Founder Mark Griffin enlisted the help of players he’d met during his years playing both for his local club Old Blue RFC and for the USA National team to help him deliver his groundbreaking sports and life skills development program to urban youth in NYC. Christian Mayo, former NYAC Captain, joined the Play Rugby team in 2006 and his passion for rugby and positive energy helped grow the number of after school programs exponentially in just a few short years!
An All Star Team of Coaches
By 2010 our staff had grown with coaches serving in schools throughout the city, many with remarkable rugby credentials including Lara Vivolo, Carrie Dubray, and Phaidra Knight. The three legends, all of whom played for NYRC and represented the USA in the 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup, were our first female coaches and made an incredible impact on the youth they served.
We caught up with Lara Vivolo to commemorate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8th. A Phys Ed teacher at Washington Irving High School during the early days of Play Rugby USA, she learned about our program through her connection to Mark and the USA National team. She became so passionate about bringing rugby to her school that she wrote a grant allowing us to do so! It wasn’t long before she became a coaching legend, working with not just her own students at Washington Irving, but also kids from schools around the city.
Looking back, Vivolo says the thing that stood out the most in those days was the kid’s curiosity about rugby.
“They were so excited by this brand new sport, I couldn’t coach them fast enough! They had lots of questions, like little rugby sponges, and I fed off their excitement.”
Since her retirement from professional rugby Vivolo has remained an active member of the rugby community and has recently started a program at Rye High School, just north of New York City. Their first season starts this month.
Rugby is Life
We often see this passion for rugby grow instantly among the youth we serve, and particularly among girls. Rugby is unique to other women’s sports because it is identical to the men’s game – the same rules, same sized pitch and the same equipment – an incredibly equalizing and empowering thing. Last Spring we held the first Women in Rugby Day, where women and girls of all ages and skill levels gathered to celebrate what makes women’s rugby unique, and build the community of female rugby athletes. According to a survey distributed at the event to girls age 9-18:
100% reported that playing rugby makes them feel strong and healthy
94% feel positive about themselves
84% feel confident when they play rugby
These are some amazing outcomes for girls who are at a critical age for developing self confidence! Despite these encouraging figures only 50% of participants surveyed felt optimistic about their future in rugby. Many reported that not knowing where to play and a lack of support were major barriers to their participation in the past.
These results suggest that rugby can play an important role in empowering young girls but that increased opportunities for them to participate are still needed.
Increasing Opportunities for Girls
Play Rugby USA has been vital in establishing more opportunities for young women in NYC to get active and be a part of a positive community. With the announcement of a plan to increase funding for girls athletics programs in NYC we hope to be able to increase the number of girls participating in our programs over the next few years. The current Play Rugby USA player pathway provides opportunities for girls to begin playing flag rugby as early as elementary school, and remain engaged throughout middle and high school.
This Spring we’re proud to announce the 2nd Annual Women in Rugby Day will be held on April 11. This event will again bring together the women’s rugby community throughout NYC, from elementary flag to senior women’s tackle, to celebrate the women who play rugby and what makes it such a unique sport! For more information on how to get involved in this exciting event please contact [email protected]
This year, as we celebrate a decade of Developing Youth Through Rugby, Play Rugby USA proudly boasts women in every level of the organization, from Youth Development Mentors and volunteers establishing vital connections with the youth we serve, to our office staff who keep things humming behind the scenes and Members of our Board who are steer us in exciting new directions!
We’re always on the lookout for enthusiastic, caring and engaging women to join our team. Become a volunteer, become a YDM or simply a champion of our program by spreading the word! However you choose to get involved, we want you to be a part of our community! Contact [email protected] for more information.