Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Erin Aulfinger (Central High School)
Last year, one Central High School teacher taught a team of 13 girls the rules of rugby; now, the coaches hope to grow that team and bring the sport to even more Memphis youth.
When Memphis Inner City Rugby’s Shane Young approached teacher Amber Ragland about starting a girls’ team at the school, she was a bit nervous. “I’d only been playing for about three or four years…and rugby is a tough game,” Ragland said.
Ragland then described MICR’s indiegogo campaign, which ended on Sept. 30, and raised $1,960 more than its $5,000 goal. The campaign was to raise money for teen male players—“gentlemen” in the vision statement—specifically outlines its need for money to cover the cost of around 200 rugby players, as all participants must pay $55 in order to pay.
Ragland’s players, similarly, must have rugby insurance costing $75 before getting past the conditioning phase. Rugby is a rough sport, often resulting in injury. “Players not only learn to tackle, but how to be tackled.” Ragland said. “I was playing a game this summer and broke someone’s skull because she didn’t know to fall to the side, not straight back.”
Renee Tomlin, a recent Central High School graduate and member of its rugby team, is now on the more competitive University of Memphis team. Tomlin originally began rugby because she “wanted to get fit” through a less mainstream sport. She loves that it’s so different from soccer, football and baseball, and exciting to boot.
Immediately after her first practice, she took pictures of her bruised knees and said on social media, “#rugbylove #injury my legs are so sore. But it is my #favoritesport.” In reality, Tomlin’s injuries were minor.
However, one of the last games of the CHS team’s first season found one player, who had only recently gotten her insurance, being lifted into the back of an ambulance.
Ragland claims that despite these risks, rugby is the perfect sport for any teenager. “It builds confidence, integrity, and provides a sense of camaraderie.”
“We also need girls of all types.” She continued. “The small, quick girls are great at defense, and the larger ladies can build a strong offense.”
She also explained that the sport needs more than just brute strength. It requires intellect and teamwork as well. At the first conditioning session, several players—returning and new—shared their expectations of rugby and what about it they love so much. Some, such as 11th grader Quetera Miller, were looking forward to learning a new sport.
“I joined because I felt exploring new things would be fun,” Destiny Thomas, a senior, said. Alexiss Smith, a senior, said she was encouraged to join by Tomlin. “Rugby keeps me energized and it’s a great way to meet new people,” she explained.
Her fellow player Ivy Arnold also felt the close ties built by rugby. “It being a club sport, you can play for any team…you can sub in for another team if they don’t have enough players.” Their 13-member team from last year had to borrow two players during every game, as rugby requires 15 players on each side.
Ragland also spoke about this; rather than being overly competitive as football and soccer can be, the clubs intermingle.
“We’re there to play, and it’s not fair for one team to have 17 players and the other 13…why should two girls sit out when that’s exactly how many we need for a full team?”
Rugby’s community makes it a predominantly safe and comfortable environment.
Sydney Steinburg, a senior, originally joined rugby “to try something outside of my comfort zone.” Now, after a year on the field, she encourages others to play by talking about the “bond [you develop] with people you would never imagine even talking to.”
The whole CHS team is excited to start the new season and are currently in the conditioning stages. They are working on getting up their physical stamina and learning the basics, from passing the ball to defending it. The sport is now well on its way to becoming a Memphis staple.