SILVER SPRING, Md.– High school girls tumbled from open car doors into the small parking lot of Mill Creek Towne Local Park Tuesday afternoon to chat amiably and strap on cleats; it was time for rugby practice.
These girls are part of the Maryland Exiles, one of the few club teams for girls in Montgomery County.
“In Maryland, rugby is mostly club based–a few varsity teams, mostly private Catholic Schools on the boys side,” said Valerie Vuyovich-Connolly, President of Rugby Maryland, the governing body of youth rugby in Maryland.
“High school girls are playing rugby, college girls are playing rugby. There are varsity sports at a lot of colleges and the U.S.A. Lady Eagles are number five in the world rankings. So in the U.S. the game is huge,” said Hugh Ferridge, Head Coach for the Maryland Exiles.
Across the Maryland Exiles practice field, girls ran drills in the afternoon sun. The team chatted and laughed between tackle drills, offering encouragement between hits.
“I love rugby because it’s a completely inclusive sport,” said Ferridge. “It’s an absolute 15-person game. It’s an absolute team game.”
“It’s so diverse– all shapes and sizes are truly needed for this sport and it’s truly a family the moment you join,” said MacKenzie Phillips, a junior at Sherwood High School and player for the Maryland Exiles.
With only four High School girl teams recognized by Rugby Maryland, opportunities for rugby are limited for girls throughout Montgomery County.
“A lot of people I know want to play rugby but can’t because of the fees,” said Phillips. “I know with MCPS sports the fees are a lot cheaper because it’s a baseline due for teams. [Rugby as a school sport] would make [rugby] more accessible to students who may wanna play an off season or a different sport.”
Bernadette Hardgrove, a sophomore at Montgomery Blair High School and soccer player for the U16 State Cup Team, said “My soccer club costs almost…5,000 dollars a year. [The school team] is much less than that, you don’t even have to pay for uniforms, so school in comparison is very, very affordable.”
According to ESPN, rugby has seen a 10 times increase in participation over more than a decade and is played by 35,000 high school Athletes throughout America. According to World Rugby 1,527,561 people who played Rugby in 2017, yet Rugby is mostly absent from the public school curriculum.
When asked if Phillips had ever heard about Rugby in school, Phillips said, “No, I really wish it was.”
“I hadn’t heard of it. None of the schools I went to taught rugby, but I think it should be part if the P.E. curriculum,” said Ashley Trejo Cabrera, another player for the Maryland Exiles and freshman at Sherwood High School.
For rugby to join other sports such as tennis, archery and pickleball in the Montgomery County Public School athletic curriculum, the Rugby community has to step up to the plate.
“It’s up to U.S.A. Rugby to spread the word and there are currently coaches going into schools at all levels introducing the sport to people,” said Ferridge.
“I don’t think [the schools] have the infrastructure or trained coaches to teach rugby, but I believe that could change. I would love to see it happen, but I wouldn’t want it to happen too fast. Slow integration would be best,” said Vuyovich-Connolly.
The rugby community has already started reaching out to public schools, encouraging the incorporation of Rugby into the P.E. Curriculum.
“Last year or the year before they had someone come out and it was really cool lesson… It’s a completely different feel, there’s nothing like it,” said Robert McMahon, Weight Training Teacher and Resource Teacher for the Athletic Department at Montgomery Blair High School.
“The County then brought it up in a meeting, along with Cricket, and I was very interested. But it didn’t catch on here. I wouldn’t be opposed to teaching rugby, we could do it in a 2-3 week unit,” said McMahon.
At Mill Creek Towne Local Park, the Maryland Exiles collected their bags after a long practice. Still laughing and poking fun, they eventually climb back into their cars for the drive home.
“It’s truly a family,” said Phillips.