Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Opportunities Open Up for College-Bound Lady Players

Opportunities to experience rugby have popped up more and more in recent years. With more eyes on the sport, interest has grown. As more spectators have come to the sport, more players have flocked as well. This influx of new participants has led to more teams forming and additional support being provided to ensure the programs' and players' success. Long Island University's women's rugby team is the most recent one to provide aid in order to attract players to its campus.

There are currently ten scholarship opportunities awaiting qualified players for the 2O18 school year. To qualify for one of these scholarships, applicants must apply before the May 1 deadline and include transcripts, ACT/SAT scores, at least one letter of recommendation and a five hundred-word personal statement on any topic. All this information can be sent to Lloyd Ribner.

Players that end up going to LIU will have a dedicated grass rugby field that only the team uses, indoor training facilities, trainers for all practices, a team bus for away games and - most importantly - swag.
Applicants can use the VIP Application link and fee waiver code: ATHLETE to help get the process going.
Players can contact John Royal with any additional questions.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Designed to Thrive: OWRP Puts Profits Towards Women's Rugby

It takes a lot to create a solid rugby club and keep it viable. Since refs don't like being paid in pizza and hugs - and USA Rugby doesn't accept high fives for CIPP registrations - every club needs money to remain afloat. Unfortunately, these funds aren’t always available for clubs that need them. This is especially true for women's and girls’ teams. The Ohio Women’s Rugby Promotions is a charity-based solution to the funding problem that empowers people to directly support the rugby women’s community – and it gives their supporters some sweet swag to wear in the process.
"Despite our best efforts to scour the state, we missed a couple teams this year.
We’ve been notified and future designs will not overlook these worthy teams."
- Renee Whittenberger

The OWRP is unique in that it was conceived by women, is run by women and directly serves women. Renee Whittenberger, Bridgette Ford and Helen Dauka are the minds behind the OWRP and the driving force behind its endeavors. All three women helped found the OWRP. Now, Dauka handles the marketing and artistic sides of the business, while Ford handles the in-person sales and recruitment efforts. While all this is going on, Whittenberger ensures the company is headed in the right direction. With the women working in concert, the OWRP has been on an unconventional upward trend.

“Admittedly, it all came together a little backwards,” Whittenberger said. “I created ‘the original’ Ohio Teams design to feature the Ohio women's and girls' team. We loved it so much we put it on a T-shirt. We decided to sell that T-shirt, at first, as a fundraiser for Youngstown Steel Valley Rugby women’s team, but we wanted to benefit more than just ourselves.”

That's when the OWRP primary plan for funding teams took shape. The women decided that they would dedicate a portion of every shirt sold for the Ohio women's team chosen by the purchaser. At that point one shirt that was meant to make a few dollars for one team took on a whole new life with much more meaning.

“We are only at the beginning of this endeavor and we continue to generate and pursue other opportunities to benefit Ohio women's teams,” she said. “Ohio Women’s Rugby Promotion has worked with women’s rugby groups on a low-effort, high-reward fundraiser which we call the ‘Two Week $500+ Program,’ we have sponsored a local sevens tournament and we have even more projects in the works – all to benefit our peers in rugby.”

The OWRP has produced big dividends for teams that have taken on the task of selling shirts. The Ohio Ellie team is a prime example of the success clubs can have with the $500+ plan. The OWRP created a design, hosted a sale for two weeks and delivered the shirts once orders had been completed. All the players had to do was direct interested buyers to the shirts, and their efforts were successful to the tune of $700. The whole process required minimal effort in the part of the Ohio Elite.

“No inventory, no organization, no collection of money, and no stress – we do it all and then hand over a check,” Whittenberger said. “This particular fundraiser was especially profitable due to hard work by the players and some well-timed perks from our printing company. We conservatively estimate a cashflow of $500 in our Two Week $500+ Program.”

Though there has been success so far, there is still a lot of leg work that goes into spreading the word and moving the product. The ladies can be seen all over Ohio at a variety of functions promoting their products. From matches on Saturdays to events put on by the Ohio Rugby Business Network and even the USA Rugby National Development Summit, Whittenberger, Ford and Dauka are continually out increasing the visibility of the OWRP. All the pavement pounding and schmoozing is in the name of building up the women's rugby teams around the state, at all levels. That is a mission the ladies have put front and center from the start - a mission they, literally, wear proudly.

The initial shirt design was crafted to showcase every single girls’ and women's team in the state - or at least the ones Whittenberger and her crew could find. After nine attempts, the design was ready. The final product was intended to be something special for the teams represented on it. It recognized each one, some of them for the first time ever. The names were more than just a roll call for these Ohio clubs. They were a symbolic message from the women behind the OWRP.

“It was my artistic way of saying ‘you matter, your team matters, your rugby counts, and we are grateful to have shared the pitch with you,’” Whittenberger said. For her, the process of creating the design held special meaning as well. “Each time I would write a team name, I would think about the players and memories I have of that team. Having played senior women’s rugby for six years and refereeing all levels of rugby for the last two years, I had been on the pitch with many of the teams featured. In producing that design, I realized how many women make up this incredible community in Ohio and how grateful I am to have officiated their matches or played with and against them. My heart swells just thinking about it.”

After the original design was successful, more were developed. In addition to the Original, there's the limited edition U24 “I Am Ohio Rugby” design and the “Ohio Pride” design, which shows the OWRP's support of the LGBTQ community. Each design is unique, and future ones will be as well. As partnerships develop and opportunities present themselves, Whittenberger and her crew will consider new sartorial offerings to meet the new demand.

The OWRP is always looking to reach out to more people, whether it's build its network of partner clubs or have more customers purchasing products. Supporters can purchase any of the shirt designs on the group's Web site. The Ohio Pride design is available as a shirt and a tank top, while the I am Ohio Rugby and Original designs are available as shirts. Those looking to get involved on the fundraising end can e-mail the OWRP.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

NW Ohio Rugby Growth: Rise of the Banshees

In recent years the women’s rugby scene had remained stagnant as far as size in the state of Ohio. With few high school and college teams, and even fewer senior level teams, the pool of female players has been woefully under served.

Fortunately, women's teams have been popping up more and more over recent years. The most recent addition is a Northwest Ohio team known as the Black Swamp Banshees.

It's said that nature abhors a vacuum. In the  Northwest Ohio there was a vacuum that needed to be filled - there scarcely any senior women's rugby teams. A group of recent graduates from the University of Findlay took note of this absence and turned to Jim Akroyd as he was assisting with the university's women's rugby team.

“I met a lot of the senior players who were sad that once they graduated there was nothing for them in the Findlay area,” Akroyd said. “A couple of alumni had come to their games and were sad they had no opportunity to play rugby. One Saturday afternoon after a hard game, we sat down and had a team meal. There the idea came to me that ‘why couldn't we start a team up?’”

At the moment of the idea's inception, Akroyd was fully invested as the scrum and lineout coach for the U of F women's team and the Head Coach for Findlay. Once the senior side elected new leadership Akroyd dedicated his full time and attention to the Banshees. In these early stages of the club, Akroyd received help from the current coach at U of F, Jim Haughn, and some dedicated alumni.

The Banshees are starting with a bare bones group right now, but the team has a solid support structure behind them to help get through this initial growing phase. The Findlay men's team has taken the Banshees under its wing so the club can concentrate on growing, rather than things like fundraising. Akroyd and the Banshees are already setting their sights on opportunities to grow and expand.

“Right now we have around ten ladies who have said they want to play,” Akroyd said. “This is just from word of mouth. We will have a booth at the local county fair to recruit more players.”

Once the team is established the Banshees will be more than an opportunity for Findlay alumni to come and extend - and I'm some cases relive - their glory days. The Banshees will be community focused, inside and out.

“I want the team to become family, a place where if the day-to-day struggles become a burden that the spirit within the team will encourage players to keep on going,” Akroyd said. “The legacy will be one of showing that hard work on the training field can reward you with a bountiful harvest of blessings.”

Akroyd and the Banshees are eager to share the bounty that rugby has to offer. The team is open to any woman that wants to learn and playing the sport. That welcoming and inclusive attitude is present in the team's name  -the Banshees. According to myths, banshees came in all shapes and sizes; and the Banshees of the Black Swamp will be no different. Interested players can find mor information about the team through its Facebook page

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Youngstown State Sets Up Club with Head Coach, Support and Scholarships

The rugby scene around the United States has been on the rise recently, with teams popping up at every level. From the young bloods up to the college and senior levels, more and more teams are popping up – on the men’s side of things anyway. Aside from a few new teams here and there, the size of the women’s rugby scene has remained relatively stagnant. Youngstown State University has employed Jeff Horton, a well-known and successful face on the women’s rugby scene, to change all that and add another viable team to the pool.

When Horton came on board, there was already a women’s rugby team in development. This movement was led by one very active member of the Youngstown rugby family and a few dedicated students. After a few conversations and a vision for what the club could become, he was hooked.

“When I first heard about YSU, I was under the impression it was going to be just another club team, which would have been outstanding in its own right. However, as I learned more about the program, I quickly realized that this particular team had potential to be far more than just your standard club,” Horton said. “I reached out to Renee Whittenberger - Youngstown Steel Valley WRFC captain - to offer my services as a consultant in the development of this organization. At that time, Renee was overseeing the development of the YSU program and the thought of coaching never entered my mind. With Renee’s passion for the game and my knowledge of women’s rugby at the collegiate level, the wheels started turning at a rapid rate.”

Those churning wheels brought Horton and Whittenberger to the desk of the Club Sports Director at the university, Tessa Padilla. The three discussed expectations and future plans for the club. Fortunately, Padilla, a rugby fan from her days in California, saw the value in the club and backed the plan to support the club. From there, all that was left to do was make up the business cards.

As any club rugby player or coach attest to, support from the university makes life infinitely easier when trying to develop and grow. Fortunately for the YSU women, the higher-ups have opened their doors, and pocketbooks, the players. Once the club gets going, players will have access to multiple athletic facilities on campus, a strength and conditioning coach two times per week and certified athletic trainers available on game days.

“At the end of the day, I wanted to be part of an organization that invested in their student athletes on all levels,” Horton said. “While our operation costs will be financed similarly to a standard club, the resources being provided to the players are unlike anything I ever had at Kent State. There are scholarships that are made available exclusively to eligible members of the women’s rugby team. These scholarships are valued at $2,000 and may be applied to on-campus living arrangements. Youngstown State University is one of the most affordable schools in Ohio. If a player has good grades, paired with a rugby scholarship, a ‘free ride’ is not too far out of the question.”

The YSU women’s team won’t be merely handing out these scholarship like really expensive hotcakes, though. Players hoping to receive the economic aid will be required to maintain a 3.0 GPA, complete ten volunteer hours and have no more than three excused absences from team functions. Players whose GPAs fall below the required level can come to an agreement with the university and retain their scholarship.

Now that the ink has dried and Horton is on the hook as coach, the next step for the club is to bring in bodies to fill the jerseys. The first step in that process is to show off the program’s value to high school talent looking at institutions of higher education. The YSU women won’t entirely be an imported team. Women on campus interested in the sport will be heavily targeted and encouraged to join the team as well. Regardless of where the players come from, each one will be expected to represent each other, the club and university in one singular, positive light.

“Our goal is to be an extremely competitive program that our peers in the rugby community can look at and say ‘They are doing this the right way.’ We want to be a program that is respected and maintains integrity,” Horton said. “Our focus is to create leaders both on and off of the field. It is my job to ensure that I am giving them the proper tools for success. I want each and every one of my student-athletes to be able to take their experiences from our program and apply them towards a successful career.”

The hope is that all this recruiting will enable the team to compete in sevens next spring and make its 15s debut in 2018 as part of the Allegheny Rugby Union.

Even though the future for Penguin Rugby is uncertain, the outlook seems bright. Aside from a dedicated core, motivated and experienced leaders and the support of the university, the team is hooked into the Youngstown rugby scene. Youngstown has been quietly raising its rugby profile, developing teams, running tournaments and giving the game a better name.

Young women interested in joining the club should contact the team directly or visit the Facebook page.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Joeys Jump Onto the Akron Rugby Scene

Another season of youth rugby competition in Ohio came to a close over the weekend. While some players went home to await another chance to compete and play next year, there’s a contingent of young players and coaches in Akron that are just getting started. The Greater Akron Joeys is a new, on-contact youth program that is open to boys and girls between the ages of six and 12. The group is planning to bring the sport of rugby to the young masses, unfettered by an eight-week schedule.

This program, which caters to youth, was spearheaded by the elder statesmen of the Akron rugby community. The Greater Akron Rugby Fund and the active players have been exposing the youth to the sport in a big way recently. From the club and college level on down to the high schools, the organizations have been pounding the pavement and spreading the gospel of rugby throughout the area. While there has been success on those fronts, a piece was still missing.

“We still do not have a presence in the schools in Akron proper,” said Bob Perko, one of the rugby evangelists powering the program. “This is our first step in that development.  We hope to build a strong youth presence that may provide a future for rugby in the Akron school system.”

Perko isn’t alone in his efforts get the Joeys going. He has surrounded himself with the proper people necessary to make the Joeys as strong as possible. Cory Langenbeck has been instrumental in starting the youth scene in Canton and is lending his knowledge to help bring rugby to the young people. Ed Muse has taken on a less glamorous but equally important role in this endeavor: doing administrative work. Perhaps the most important partnership is the one between the Joeys and the City of Akron and other organizations in the area. Combined with help from the GARF, these partnerships have set the Joeys on a strong path.

For Berko and those that invested time and effort into the Joeys, the program will be more than a one-stop means for a few years of friendly competition. When players get involved the plan is for them to remain active in rugby and the community beyond their involvement with the Joeys.

“It seems like there is a need for programs like ours - something that is inexpensive to participate in, has low equipment costs and involves the community. Our hope for the future is to have a program that is impactful to rugby and to the kids that participate,” Perko said. “We would like to develop rugby in the greater Akron area so it’s not an obscure sport, but something that is a positive activity that the local communities can participate in.  We hope to leave a positive, lasting impact on the participants and people involved.  Even if it’s not for some and they don’t return, we hope that they still leave with a good experience.”

For those that do stick around, the Joeys plan to offer an expanse of unique experiences to the players and families. One of those experiences is family night. The group will take time to give information about rugby to parents so they can learn about rugby as their children do. Parents will also have the opportunity to play alongside their children during the regular event. As far as the track beyond the Joeys, players will be put in a pipeline to make playing at higher levels of the sport as easy as possible.

“We hope to build a program that will help feed into the University of Akron rugby program for those athletes that choose to stay in Akron and attend the university,” Perko said. “We are also hoping that, through our program, the players build a strong foundation for success, not only in rugby, but in their lives.”

What makes the Joeys truly unique from other youth rugby programs is that competition seems to be secondary. The philosophy of the Joeys is “Better Living Through Rugby.” While involved with the Joeys, players and families will learn about rugby, sportsmanship, community values, the joys of healthy competition and self-respect. The organizers of the Joeys even plan to help players develop an appropriate diet for a developing athlete by providing healthy food at events. The organizers of the Joeys want to bring this positivity to as many people as positive, and are working to break down as many barriers as possible.

“While any competitor wants to win, that is not our only goal. We are very inclusive. We want people to participate and have fun,” Perko said. “We are offering a free program. To help recruit we’ve been targeting local schools and outreach programs.  It appears there is a need for low-cost programs for the kids. We are providing that. We are putting in the time to build relationships with local business and individuals to help fund the program, and push this along. We also need and want the involvement of the community and families that participate.”

When the group solidifies and begins to field teams, players will travel to compete against squads in neighboring cities. First, the Joeys will try to make an impact on its local scene.

"Right now, we hope to get enough participants to have a strong intramural competition," Perko said. "As the program grows, and we get some experience, we would like to face the competition in the Greater Akron and Cleveland areas. Canton Rugby is building a youth program, and Cleveland Rugby has a strong presence in the lower levels. I do not see lack of competition being an issue as our program grows."

The Greater Akron Joeys encourage any and all families in the area interested in the sport an opportunity to participate. While the group’s Web site is very bare bones, it has the most essential page in tact: the registration page. Families interested in becoming involved can go to the Joeys’ Facebook page or e-mail the Joeys directly for more information and details.

Friday, May 19, 2017

CARPS Create New Coaching Staff Ahead of Summer Qualifiers

The Cleveland Crusaders plan to take the 2017 summer sevens circuit by storm with the addition of a new coaching staff. The new members at the helm will provide new ideas and direction for the players while enabling them to focus on competing on the field. The hope is that eliminating the player-coach from the equation will go a long way towards allowing the team to get over its sevens stumbling blocks and secure a berth on the national stage.

The Cleveland Area Rugby Premier Side (CARPS) has never been short on talent. The CARPS is the sevens contingency of the Cleveland Crusaders. Speed merchants and ankle breakers from the 15s side have been constant threats on the sevens scene. This pool of talent has been joined by some of the finest college players in the nation to form a formidable team. This potent combination of youth and experience has made the CARPS a menace on the field – on good days. When the team has played at top form it has been known to push powerhouses like the Youngbloodz and Chicago Lions to the limit and even upset the likes of 1823. Unfortunately, inconsistency has trapped the CARPS in the middle of the table and kept a berth at nationals out of reach.

Part of this inconsistency was likely due to the skeleton crew that comprised the CARPS. The side often started with a small pool of players. On top of playing, one or two of that players were often handling coaching and logistic duties as well. Summer attrition and glass hamstrings depleted the side further and made escaping the region impossible. This year, the CARPS plan to remedy that problem with the addition of two new coaches to the sevens staff.

Patrick Rahill will be the new head coach of the CARPS  this summer. Rahill is a Cleveland native and an accomplished member in his own right. After graduating from Hudson High School, he went on to play for Miami of Ohio and become a Collegiate Midwest All Star. In his career beyond college, he has spent time with 1823, the Crusaders and CARPS. Recently, Rahill has been studying law.

Rahill's assistants are familiar names on the rugby scene and established in their own rights. Each has extensive experience playing and coaching and have been to the upper echelons of rugby in the Midwest and beyond.

First, Luke Markovich will be added to the fold to bring a new set of eyes, and probably ideas, to the CARPS’ sevens approach. Markovich began his career at Saint Edward High School as a player. Like Rahill, he spent his college days at Miami of Ohio. During his time there, he was selected as an All-Midwest player and a Collegiate All-American. Most recently, he played for and captained 1823 before coming to Notre Dame College and coaching the women’s team there. Markovich also has experience playing in the National Sevens Tournament, so he knows what it takes to make it to the big matches.

The last man on the coaching staff is long-time CARPS sevens staple Nick Viviani. Viviani is a product of Mentor High School and Bowling Green State University. His accolades include being named a Collegiate All-American, playing for the Midwest Men’s All-Star team in 2011 as well as being named to the All-Midwest sides for sevens and 15s. He is also the current captain for the Crusaders.

With this beefed up coaching crew, the CARPS are taking aim at the higher levels of the sevens scene. The qualifier roster will feature 12 players, chosen every week, and will travel to Madison, Wisc. before hosting its own tournament in Mentor, Ohio. After that, the CARPS will travel to Brighton, Mich. for the last qualifier of the season and end the summer in Cincinnati, Ohio for the Midwest Championships.

The CARPS plan to provide additional playing opportunities for those not interested in the qualifier tournaments as well. With June just around the corner, the new-look CARPS will be on display in no time, and time will tell if this new coaching staff can lead this team in a new, better direction.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

USA Rugby Encouraging Local Clubs to Host Assessment Camps

USA Rugby is giving the rugby community at large the opportunity to help identify future Eagles by allowing teams, clubs and unions the opportunity to one-day National Assessment Camps in 2017.

The camps will be part of the USA Rugby Academy program and put players on the radar of 15s and sevens programs.  What makes these upcoming camps special is the freedom that they'll give coaches as far as which talent pool to dip into. Normally, people hear about collegiate and upper level camps. With USA Rugby's announcement, those putting on an event can identify talent at any level, from youth on up to the big kids on the college and senior club scenes.

Aside from bringing notoriety to the host, a large advantage to holding a camp is that it has the potential to bring more players into the fold than would be possible otherwise. Most players can’t afford to travel to the coasts of the country for a weekend camp. Traveling to a session a few hours away or in their backyards might be more feasible.

If clubs are smart and host these events, they could be prime recruiting opportunities. It would give them access to national-level talent, or at least players committed and driven enough to try and get there. With a minimum requirement of 20 players at each camp, a team or club could gather more players in one day than would be possible in a year of conventional recruiting. What team couldn't benefit from a talent pool like that?

Those that attend the camps will take part in a battery of skills assessments, basic testing and other activities. These will allow participants to sell themselves and stand out from the rest of the pack. These camps are about proving potential not presenting perfection. Potential is what the High Performance staff present on the day of the camp will be looking at the room players have to grow. The ones that show up and show out will be uniquely positioned to receive invitations to regional and residential or upcoming national pathway events.

The camps aren't difficult to run and typically run four hours throughout a day. The camps are open to men and women. Camps can be exclusive or include both genders. Participants can be as young as 15 and older; and rugby experience is no barrier to these camps.

Generally, the days run like this:
  • 0:00-1:00 - Warm-up/Basic Testing 
  • 1:00-1:45 - Multi-Directional & spatial awareness activities 
  • 1:45-2:45 - Skill-Based activities & progressions 
  • 2:45-3:15 - Break 
  • 3:15-4:00 - Skill-Based activities

Those that opt to run one of these camps won’t be going it alone, though. USA Rugby will send people from the national programs to help lead the sessions. Local coaches are invited and encouraged to work hand-in-hand with the staff from USA Rugby. The higher-ups will also support the host clubs my donating any proceeds made from the camp right back to it.

All teams need to hold a camp is a field in good condition. Posts and additional space are good things to have as well but not required. If these criteria can be met and interest is high, teams can complete a short survey to be considered in the 2017 schedule.