Last summer, when I joined the club women and trans rugby team, I had never played rugby. In fact, I had never watched a game of rugby, or seen a rugby ball, or heard the word “scrum” out loud in my entire life. Maybe I shouldn’t admit it so immediately, but I joined the team for the people, and that was one of the best decisions I could have made. When I showed up at the farthest corner of North Field on that first fateful June afternoon, already confused not only by rugby but by the directions to North Field, I was welcomed into the team with open arms. Since that first day I have befriended everyone on the team, hollered across Wilder Bowl to say hi when I saw them all from afar, vaguely learned the rules of rugby, tackled and have been tackled possibly more than thirty times, and have earned a Rugby name (Pacino!).
Equipped with these skills, or at least qualities, the Rhinos rugby team began this new semester eager to play against other schools. During the summer, there was no chance to play rugby against local teams in our bracket, because no one else was enrolled. Now, refreshed by the bitingly cold fall Ohio air, we were ready to rally, and the opportunity presented itself two weeks ago in a town called Peters.
Though the rugby games we played were already iconic, I would not be doing justice to the rugby tournament without recounting the entire day. If you’re a die-hard rugby fan and you’re only here to read about the gritty play-by-play of the game, I’d skip the next paragraph, and maybe the first and last one too. Though I’ll be describing the day from my own perspective, I hope I’m able to give you some sort of personal insight on the way our team functions. The day began at 7am at a crisp 34 degrees. I got dressed in leggings, scrum shorts and sweatpants, and only after receiving a text saying I was five minutes late did I wipe the frost off my bike seat and set out to Wilder, where our small fleet of cars were assembled. Our first game was scheduled for 10am, but we had a two-hour drive ahead of us. What that really means is that we had an eclectic, but immaculate playlist ahead of us, and of course, without fail, a Dunkin drive-through pit stop. After piling into the car and shedding coats and layers, the phone connected to aux was passed around and a playlist was crafted, followed closely by an 8am scream-sing along. At 8:30 on the dot we were in the drive-through, all trying to whisper our order to Backlash in the driver's seat, only to realize we were all ordering the exact same iced latte with different milks and about 100 orders of hash browns. We also took this time to emotionally prepare for the absolute ruckus that was about to appear on our team Instagram. It’s become a bit of a tradition to post (some say silly, other say critically important) updates of our game during tournaments. The words “Instagram live while we eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches together between games'' may or may not have been tossed around.
It’s time to come clean with something I possibly should have mentioned a little earlier. Our team is incredible and fantastic, but we don’t know all the rules of rugby, and we don’t play a lot of tournaments. Why is that? Honestly, in my humble opinion it doesn’t add up. We practice three times a week for two hours! We all show up and actually play real rugby. The entire team is run by students, but we all hold positions, and we have a certified coach. That coach demos rugby plays, and teaches us all the rugby terms. I have a feeling that by the end of the semester we will not only know all the rules of rugby, but we’ll also be REALLY incredible at the sport. Anyways, at this point in time, the 10am tournament against 4 teams with adult coaches and a profound knowledge of what the words “ruck” and “mol” meant was definitely beginning to feel like a learning curve. Though what I just described sounds daunting, our choice to show up and play regardless of our level of expertise turned out to be one of the best parts of the game. The coach and the referee (called the sir in rugby), even the people playing against us on the other teams, all pitched in to answer any questions we had. When we were in the wrong spot on the pitch, or setting a ruck incorrectly, everyone was quick to let us know in an encouraging way. Though we were learning a lot while playing, when we got into the swing of our games they were muddy and exhilarating and everything you could hope for in a rugby game. There was constant (safe!) tackling, nonstop lifting hooks off the ground by their scrum shorts, and by the end of each game we gathered in a circle to scream out a rugby chant of appreciation for the coaches, the sir, and the teams that had just played. While we were not playing, we were invited to sub into other teams that were short a couple players, and encouraged to ask any questions we had. We came away from the tournament with a much better understanding of rugby, the coaches’ emails, a duffle bag of muddy jerseys, and a handful of snacks that had been passed around to tide us over.
You’re probably thinking, what a lovely day, that sounds like a really nice tournament. You’d be right to say that, but wrong to think that our day and the entire tournament ended there. We all drove into the small college town where the tournament had been held, to eat frozen custard at a tiny famed storefront. Still dressed in our green and blue striped jerseys, we sat outside, taking in the fall day that had turned surprisingly warm and enjoying our cones. After that wholesome excursion, we explored a few more coffee shops and bookstores before we decided we were ready to head back to Oberlin.
I remember the drive back being filled with hills, which is uncharacteristic of Ohio, but really fun to drive through. The leaves were turning and we had crafted an entirely new playlist for the journey home. Being in the car with everyone felt a lot like being a kid and taking a small road trip with your family. Long enough that you could stop for snacks and take a disorienting nap, but not long enough for you to actively call it a road trip. You’ll all be glad to hear that, with the music blaring in the background, we did go on Instagram live from the Rhinos Instagram page. Unfortunately, I accidentally added a filter I had no idea how to remove, and the only people who joined were our fellow teammates, joining in from another car 400 feet away from us. Even worse, when we ended the live there was no way of saving it without posting it onto the Rhinos Instagram page, so that experience will live on only in our memories, and now, in this fateful blog.
The day ended with a slow roll back into Oberlin and big waves goodbye as we all slipped back into our dorms and houses. Though we don’t have any prospective tournaments coming up, we continue to practice every week, always getting better at rugby. You’ll all be happy to hear I now definitely know where North Field is without a shadow of a doubt. Finally, if this sounded at all fun to you, consider joining the Rhinos rugby team; by the time you join we might know all the rules!
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