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.

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