Smile Politely

Rent-A-Rugger, or how to be a women’s athletic supporter

The equipment looks familiar to anyone who’s watched American football, minus the heavy protective pads. The rules are similar to any other sport: complex to the novice watching, simple to the athlete playing the game. Fast paced, with a vocabulary specific to the game. The adrenaline is addictive and the camaraderie is appealing. It’s called rugby and it’s played in Urbana by a group of dedicated University of Illinois women.

The Illinois Women’s Rugby team is a registered student organization (RSO) whose home base is the Urbana-Champaign campus. The team plays other collegiate-level teams within the Midwest and from around the country during tournament play. IWR plays a full competitive schedule in the fall, and during the spring semester they will take to the road playing tournaments like Nash Bash in Nashville, Tennessee. “We have several teams around the area we play on a regular basis,” explained team member Allison Kennedy. “ISU, Carbondale, and Purdue to name a few. Northern Iowa is a big rival.”

The 2012 season starts on March 10 in Chicago with the Whiskey 10s (where each team only gets ten players on the pitch). All home games are played on Saturdays at 12:00 noon on the Women’s Rugby pitch in the Florida Avenue Sports Complex at the corner of Lincoln and Florida Avenues. Rugby is the “perfect blend of having a good time and competitiveness,” said junior Kelsey Thomas. During tournaments, IWR gets to play teams not in their normal competitive schedule. The games will take them as far west as Nebraska in search of tournament bragging rights. 

Get ‘em early

At this time, the Illinois Women’s Rugby team consists of 26 members, with 15 on the field of play at any given time during a game, with the exception mentioned above. A great number of the squad came aboard as freshmen and found the right combination of camaraderie and release of aggression they were searching for. The team does several recruiting events throughout the school year, including Quad Day. “I saw the group on quad day; it looked interesting,” said Naomi Ayodele. She played soccer for 13 years and was looking for something else. What she found was a sport that was “underground, but like family.” Kennedy’s older brother told her to try rugby, saying he thought she’d like it. Like Ayodele and Thomas, she found the rugby team as a freshman. She finds the game “a challenge, always dynamic. It’s pretty aggressive, a nice release of anger.” Always looking to expand the team, they recruit on campus at the ARC and hand out flyers in the residence halls. 

Being an RSO, as opposed to a school sponsored athletic club, has both positive and negative aspects — the positive being they can set their own schedule and be choosy about which tournaments to attend. They can run lean and mean, but that leads to the negative — tournaments cost money, jersey’s cost money, money costs money — and being an RSO provides a very limited budget. This is shy the team turns to the greater community at large.


Rent-a-Rugger is the squad’s main fundraising activity. “Let Illinois Women’s Rugby tackle your messes for you” is their catchy catch phrase. And they mean it. For a donation, the group will help community members with jobs like shoveling snow and helping with yard or housework. Or as Ayodele puts it, “anything within our skill set.”  Help with moving may not be out of the question. While being in charge of their own schedule gives the team a lot of flexibility, it means they must put more effort in raising funds and other work. “It’s good to be able to choose,” said Kennedy, but that also means the members are in charge of all administrative work for their team. The IWR coach can focus strictly on coaching, while the burden of all the other work falls on the team.

The group is being more aggressive with fundraising this year than past. All the money raised by IWR’s community outreach will be plowed back into the team. This provides the team with the money to take part in the tournaments, new jerseys, and other expenses that their RSO status and other donations do not cover. The group does have a very active group of alumni that provides donations and support in other areas. A large number of previous team members stay in touch with the current team. They hold clinics for the members, host social gatherings, and, once a year, the former players come back to the UIUC campus to have a game against the current team. The feeling of family doesn’t stop at the end of the season; it continues for the team members, past and present.

For more information about the Illinois Women’s Rugby team, including their 2012 spring schedule, please visit To Rent-A-Rugger, please contact Becca Egan


Editor’s note: If after reading this, it you feel the urge cover the IWR for our sports section, please contact Smile Politely.

Photos courtesy of the Illinois Women’s Rugby team.

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