Two recent features on the University of Southern Mississippi Women’s Rugby team … they lost all of their school support and have worked to keep their club alive. Great stories.
When the going gets tough
By SUSAN LAKES
Just because a woman is petite and has pink polished nails, jewelry and a perfectly made-up face doesn’t mean she isn’t tough.
She might be a tight head prop, winger, scrum half, lock or one of the other positions for the University of Southern Mississippi Women’s Rugby Club.
The club held its first invitational tournament on campus Saturday. Teams from Georgia Tech, Baton Rouge, La., and Memphis took the pitch – that’s rugby talk for a level grassy field – testing their speed, accuracy and strategy in getting a fatter-than-normal football from one end of the field to the other.
All types of females have joined the rugby club at Southern Miss.
“We have tree huggers, prissies, sorority girls….” said Tabitha Davis, one of the team captains.
Davis said women’s rugby hasn’t caught on in the Deep South yet, as the Southern Miss squad is just one of four in the area.
But she and Lane Standige, one of the other co-captains, want to change that.
They’re fighting to keep the Southern Miss club team alive, even though the school stopped funding it this year.
When the funding stopped, Candace Young stepped in. She’s the president of the club team that has 20 girls on the roster.
“We were practically broke,” she said.
But the team stepped in and raised $3,000 through T-shirt sales and various fundraisers.
Now they’re able to travel to tournaments. And if someone on the team is broke, the others take up a collection so they’ll have enough players at tourney time – the sport requires 15 players at a time for each team.
“We’re like a small family,” Young said.
Even if a team falls a few players short, it’s not a problem. Someone from an opposing team just dons the appropriate jersey and fills in. On Saturday, Young traded her Southern Miss jersey for one from the Baton Rouge team.
Winning a game – teams play two halves that last about a half-hour each – is great, but the rugby camaraderie is just as nice, players say.
“You hit each other all day long, then you get together later and have a party,” Standige said, laughing.
And the second one …
Fans enjoy sport’s excitement
By SUSAN LAKES
Ten feet tall and bullet-proof.
That’s what University of Southern Mississippi rugby player Sunny Tyson yelled out to her parents when they asked her height and weight.
Tyson, 19, is actually a 120-pound, 5- foot 2-inch second-year student.
She’s new to rugby this year.
Her parents, Spencer Bankston and Marsha Brown from Bay Springs, rarely miss a game, even though they’ll freely admit they have no earthly idea what the players are trying to do on the field.
But rugby is a sport with no lukewarm fans or players.
“People are intimidated,” said Candace Young, president of the Southern Miss Women’s Rugby Club. “There’s no middle ground. You either love it or hate it.”
Robert Thornburg, 25, loves it enough that he returned to Hattiesburg from Montgomery, Ala., to watch the Southern Miss team host a four-team tournament Saturday.
Thornburg and his fiancee, Alicia Hopper, are both Southern Miss graduates.
Hopper worked the game.
“She’s a touch judge. She marks where the ball goes out of bounds,” Thornburg said.
The former rugby player offered some play-by-play details for some of the parents and friends of players who watched the games.
“When they’re running and they stop, that’s called a ruck,” he said about some of the action in the first game where Southern Miss beat Georgia Tech.
“That’s a line out,” he said when football-shaped ball went outside of one of the metric-marked lines.
The two opposing teams quickly formed a tunnel. Someone threw it back in bounds and the play continue.
It looked like chaos, but it’s not, according to Young.
“It’s actually very controlled,” she said. “It’s not just people running at each other.”