“You don’t understand, you never played sports” was a phrase that followed me throughout high school. We came to the College for the academics and the opportunities available on an intellectual level; it never occurred to us that we would find ourselves as players on a women’s rugby team, a sport we didn’t even know existed until we set foot on the pitch. Williams’s emphasis on both intellectual and physical engagement was a jarring and new dynamic that we didn’t expect to have access to until we heard those magic words: club sport. You didn’t have to have any experience or even be particularly athletic. The entire premise of club sports is to open the playing field to those who had never laced up a pair of cleats or molded a mouthguard.
But there is a tension between the availability of funding for club sports and the sports’ particular needs that make club sports difficult to contend with under the category of student organizations. The fact remains that rugby is still a sports team. To be a member of the New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU) all teams must have a coach, emergency medical technicians, a student trainer, a minimum of 15 players (without substitutes) and, equally important, transportation to and from matches. The funding allocations available to student organizations under College Council (CC) bylaws is limited and understandably so. But due to the weekly nature of match scheduling, transportation is a consistent priority for a sports team. To miss a game would jeopardize our standing as a Div. II team under NERFU. Club teams are encouraged to use personal cars or College vans as reliable sources of transportation. However, this exists within a hierarchical distribution of privileges, one which prioritizes the needs of varsity sports, admissions and a subsequent list of other departments. Even with a prior reservation for a College van in place, if any of the aforementioned groups request a vehicle the day of, the reservation becomes obsolete. The use of personal cars is out of the question as well. Aside from the fact that only one member of our team currently has a car on campus, our hesitations are centered on safety. Rugby is a contact sport – physical exhaustion, injuries and concussions are all part of the game. With many matches over three hours away, it is unreasonable to ask a player to drive to a match, play 80 minutes of rugby and then drive back, especially when some of our wake-up calls are as early as 5 a.m.
When we read the phrase, “Through the Student Body, we hope to create a community to which every student belongs and in which every student participates,” stated in the preamble of CC’s constitution, we can’t help but think of the ways in which this statement falls short. It is catered to mainstream college culture, which revolves around the success of varsity sports. Advertisements encouraging students to attend varsity away games are posted around campus, an opportunity available through CC’s generous funding of buses. While I am not saying this is an unfair use of funds considering the percentage of varsity athletes on this campus, it is not unreasonable to harp on the unique needs of a club sport and CC’s failure to meet them. This lack of commitment is best exemplified through the blatant absence of communication. The fact that no member of the women’s rugby team was given the opportunity to be present during the CC meeting which ultimately ruled to censure the team is unacceptable.
Women’s rugby prides itself on its tagline, “no experience necessary.” With a diverse membership and serving as the main athletic and social scene for many students of color, international and LGBTQ-identified students, women’s rugby serves a unique function in providing a truly inclusive space for all.
While we must acknowledge an unfortunate lack of communication that unraveled into the need for CC to censure the team, this isn’t really about us. It’s about ensuring that club teams, including rugby, aren’t slowly phased out due to the rigid protocol of CC. Sports teams have slightly different, yet critical, needs that must be adequately addressed. At the very least, they should be able to contest their allocations based on what they know they need, as opposed to what CC thinks they should have. As graduation nears, we just want to ensure that the team that has molded such an integral part of our Williams experience continues to be here.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like a contact sport for women; the feeling of sheer power as you take down another person or break free from a tackle. It can’t die out for lack of a bus. With the emphasis that the College puts on student athletes, it cannot then turn and ignore a team with such an unbelievable history of traditions and accomplishments. For so many of us, this team has constituted the element in our Williams careers that has kept us here. And as we leave, we will do everything in our power to ensure that there always remains a little maroon and gold in the purple bubble.
Dilia Ortega ’13 is a comparative literature and history major from Los Angeles, Calif. She lives in Currier. Soraya Membreno ’12 is an English and astronomy major from Miami, Fl. She lives in Wood.