This past weekend I experienced my first ever Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia, PA! USA Sevens sponsors this exciting event, bringing together 20 of the best 7s collegiate teams in the country. In addition to the Men’s Collegiate Championship, there were several other events occurring throughout the weekend including the Women’s Collegiate Championship, the National Small College 7s Championship, High School Rugby Challenge, and US Military Memorial Cup. Whew! If you ever have the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend it. It was a herculean organizational effort, and many thanks go to USA Sevens, USA Rugby and Rugby PA.
It was a weekend full of colorful uniforms, valiant play, and people – lots and lots of rugby fans and players! It was just fun to turn to the person next to me and talk about rugby! I met many wonderful people who are just as passionate as me, working to expand the presence of rugby in ways big and small. It was also exciting for all of us to be surrounded by great college players, sometimes in the same elevator. The crowded elevators probably smelled better in the morning, before a hot day full of rugby matches. 🙂
My reason for being there, aside from just enjoying the entire spectacle, was to be a team manager/mom for my son’s 7s team that participated in the High School Rugby Challenge. That was truly the best part – being around this great group of kids. We all learned a lot together, from how to survive the heat in a big city we’d never been in before, to how to get our jerseys clean. Many thanks have to go to the staff at our hotel, the Sheraton Downtown Philadelphia, for helping with our jerseys and extra things we needed. They were awesome! I will not forget the kindness of them all.
As always, the character of rugby fans and players did not disappoint. Our pool play started Friday, and it was very hot – about 96 degrees. As I was struggling with a couple bags of fruit to take to my boys, a rugger from a team near Pittsburgh offered to help me. We talked on the way back to where my team had secured a piece of shade, and I asked him about rugby. He said that this was their first year of play, and he loved it. When I asked him what he liked best, he said hanging out with the teams after the matches. I smiled, because to me, this is the true spirit of rugby. Luckily, I saw his coach the next day and was able to share this young player’s act of chivalry.
As our team played their way to winning their pool and advancing to quarterfinal play on Saturday, something besides winning the matches made my heart melt. At the end of each match, our team presented a game ball to a player on the opposing team that they felt had played the best. It was a move that was appreciated by the other teams, and led to some good hand-shaking all around.
Between our 2nd and 3rd matches, one of these opposing coaches came over and spoke to our boys. What he said nearly made me cry. He first complimented all of the boys, encouraging them to play in college and on men’s teams, saying they were all worthy of that. He then said that our 7s coach was teaching rugby the right way, passing along to them the true spirit of rugby. After he spoke sincerely from his heart, he presented our coach with a game ball from their team. It was very touching.
In the midst of rugby being in the Olympics in 2016, a lot of preparation is being undertaken by USA Rugby and USA Sevens to find great rugby players in our nation to bring home a medal (and who does not want that??). But, it’s also good to remember that the number of future Olympians is dwarfed by the increasing number of kids playing youth rugby, whether starting in grade-, middle-, high-school or college. Whether an Olympian or an Olympic spectator, those kids are who will pass along the spirit of rugby. They will cheer loudly for our USA Eagles as they recruit friends for their high school team or share their passion for rugby with a newbie. And when the USA Eagles bring home an Olympic medal, our celebrations will be loud and prolonged! It will be a medal won by all of us who are passionate about rugby (whether for 4 years or 24 years), and believe that rugby is not just a sport. It is a way of life.