"Rugby is a sport for anyone – just ask any of my girls … "

A cute article on a 5-2 gymnast who’s now playing varsity rugby at Southern Vermont …

From tumbling to tackling
By Kenneth Norris/ Special to The Beacon
Thursday, November 9, 2006

Southern Vermont College freshman Emily Thatcher is only 5-foot-3 and 125 pounds, a perfect stature for gymnastics, the only sport she participated in during high school. But her size and delicate skills haven’t prevented her from becoming a key player on a team playing a college sport known for hard hits and mud-covered uniforms.

Thatcher is the daughter of Charlene and Bruce Thatcher, of Acton, and she graduated from Acton-Boxborough Regional High School in 2006.

Thatcher recently finished her first year as a member of the college’s varsity women’s rugby team, which struggled early but ended the year with a 3-2 record and finished their season with a 44-0 road win over Green Mountain College.

Both the Mountaineer men’s and women’s teams will continue to compete as part of the New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU) and the USA Rugby national organization. But the women’s team may soon be able to compete under NCAA auspices.

“I never played any contact sports in high school. I did some gymnastics, but no soccer or anything like that,” Thatcher said. “But I was attracted to rugby from the moment I saw it played. It was the contact part of rugby. For me, it is really a big self-esteem boost to have me – at 5-3 and 123 (pounds) – to be able to break through four or five girls who are bigger than me or to take down a girl from another team who is much bigger than I am. I cannot do some of the things that some of the girls do because of my size, but it feels good to play this game with girls who are bigger and maybe stronger than me.”

For Mountaineer head coach Jeremiah Madison, playing rugby is as much about heart and spirit as it is about size.

“Rugby is a sport for anyone – just ask any of my girls,” said Madison, who is in his first year as coach of the college’s two varsity rugby teams. “I have the hardcore, ‘want-to-fight, was-in-kickboxing’ girls, and I have the pretty, ‘figure-skating, get-their-nails-done’ girls. Rugby looks tough, but it is really addictive and no matter who you are, you give it a chance and you don’t want to quit.

And Madison is really happy to have a girl like Thatcher on his team.

“Emily wasn’t sure how she would like it but now she loves it,” Madison said. “Emily is such a blessing. She is a true team player. She is always encouraging all of the other girls and they love her for that; so do I. I wish I had a whole team that had a ‘team first’ attitude like hers.”

Thatcher agrees that the attraction of the sport is being part of a team as much as being part of the sport of rugby.

“What I liked about gymnastics was the camaraderie, and I have that same feeling here, it is just different with rugby,” Thatcher said. “In rugby you depend on your girls – it doesn’t matter where they are on the field; it forces you to trust the girl across the field. If you don’t get the tackle, you have to trust that they have your back, that they will help you out.”

While Thatcher has made the transition to college rugby, she admits that her family and friends are still a little confused.

“My parents and quite a few of my friends had the same reaction – ‘Wait, come again? Did I just here that right?’ They don’t know me as an aggressive person, and when people think of rugby they think of aggression. When you look at me you do not see me as someone who intimidates people. I am not the kind of person who hurts people.”

But she is the type of young woman, apparently, that enjoys the sport of college rugby. And she is not alone.

According to the NCAA, rugby is one of the largest and continually growing club sports in the United States, with almost 350 collegiate women’s clubs in existence. The NCAA is working with USA Rugby to help colleges start programs.

Southern Vermont College added men’s and women’s rugby to the Mountaineer varsity sports line-up starting in the 2006-07 school year. Both sports were popular club sports at the college.

For more information about Southern Vermont College rugby, visit www.svc.edu/athletics.

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1 Comment

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One response to “"Rugby is a sport for anyone – just ask any of my girls … "

  1. AOF

    Dear coaches,

    Please refer to your college athletes as women. 18+ = women. Unless you coach youth or H.S., you coach women’s rugby, not girl’s rugby.

    Best,
    a women’s rugby coach who played women’s college rugby

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