The Augustana women’s rugby club is looking to go varsity.
The team sent petitions to the college’s athletic director and several other administrators requesting consideration of rugby as a varsity women’s sport.
“There’s a big push right now for schools in the Midwest to go varsity with their club rugby teams,” senior rugby player Courtney Healey said.
The Augustana rugby team is one of 12 club teams in the area petitioning their colleges for varsity status.
Coach Bryn Chivers, who also serves as the women’s commissioner for the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO), worked with other area rugby leaders starting about two years ago on moving the sport to the varsity level.
Chivers said the planning picked up in July of this year, and in the past week, all 12 schools submitted their petitions.
Junior rugby club president Lorelei Tinaglia said the Augustana administration has not yet responded to the petition, but the next step for the team is to arrange a meeting with the athletic director.
“We need to first get them to talk to us about it,” junior field captain Katie Retterath said.
For Retterath, becoming a varsity team would mean a closer affiliation with the school and more recognition. Rugby is a growing sport both nationwide and at Augustana, with 22 current members according to Chivers.
“We’ve had 14 freshmen come out, two of whom didn’t stay, 12 of whom did,” Chivers said. “Interest continues to grow. It’s growing as a youth sport.”
As a club sport, the rugby team is responsible for its own fundraising in order to hire and pay a coach. The players raise money for their own travel and equipment expenses.
In recent years, players fundraised about $1,000 annually through selling t-shirts, working football concessions and guarding homecoming floats. The club also gets $750 each semester from ASA, according to Tinaglia, who orchestrates fundraising for the team.
“I have an entire binder dedicated to this,” she said.
Tinaglia said the team spends about $2500 per year, with some expenses coming out of the players’ pockets.
For Tinaglia, transitioning to a varsity sport would mean not having to be an administrator of her own team.
“It would be a load off my shoulders,” she said. “The players could focus on being players and not on running the background team stuff. We could have coaches and other administrators who are in charge of that.”
Healey said as a varsity sport, rugby would have more recognition around campus.
“You could probably ask 10 people and maybe three of them would know about rugby here,” she said.
The administrative oversight and additional funds aren’t the only reasons the rugby team wants to be a part of the varsity sports scene, according to Retterath.
“There aren’t a lot of varsity women’s sports at this time, and there are a lot of women that go here,” she said.
Chivers said some schools with “gender equity issues” are turning to rugby as a varsity sport because it allows for larger squad sizes. He said the ideal squad size at a college like Augustana is 35 women.
“Augustana already sees contact sports as being important for men and should see it as being important for women as well,” Healey said.
With all of the excitement from the rugby team accompanying the petition, the players recognize that the switch to varsity won’t happen overnight.
“Hopefully by the time the freshmen are seniors, something will have happened,” Retterath said.