My first introduction to Rugby was when my grandson-in-law, Ben, sent me a picture of him with the blackest eye I had ever seen after winning a Championship Rugby match in Australia. Having all daughters I was almost sickened by seeing this handsome man’s face marred by a “shiner” so large that it almost obliterated his face.
When, five years later, my 17 year old granddaughter informed me that she was going out for the rugby team with the San Diego Young Aztecs (SDYA) my first thought was of Ben and all the cuts, scrapes and bruises he had during the rugby season. (I shouldn’t have been surprised at Molly’s choice. Her Aunt Lynn, my middle daughter, was the first female on the Water Polo team out of Pt. Loma High many years ago.) Still, the remembrance of Ben’s pictures was at the forefront of my mind.
The San Diego Young Aztec Rugby Club was started by its visionary founder Nevin Kleege. He had a dream about starting up youth rugby, in a meaningful way, here in San Diego. Seven years ago six children showed up to practice, and today they serve over 600 children (from 5-19 years old) in our community.
They currently have a youth club league, a high school program including players from 12 high schools, and have just in the last year, introduced rugby for girls!
They have come a long way since their humble beginnings, but the vision to grow, and spread the word, has not faded. The roster of players comprises a very diverse group … what binds them is the brotherhood, and now sisterhood, of being a rugby player.
One of the goals of the San Diego Young Aztecs is to introduce the sport to the youth of San Diego County with an emphasis on safety, camaraderie and sportsmanship where the teaching of fundamental skills, strategies and tactics of rugby are emphasized with a focus on inclusion and participation. They have found that by “combining the joy of rugby with an emphasis on commitment, effort, respect, honesty, sportsmanship and a sense of community, they are making a difference in the lives of many boys and now girls.”
Their own literature says that, “the sense of belonging to a worldwide community is real and will stay with the players throughout a lifetime.” The decision to return rugby to the 2016 Olympics has had the effect of promoting rugby as a positive, healthy, youth sport.
There are currently two girl Rugby teams under the SDYA umbrella. One is in Mira Mesa and the other is in Point Loma. These are not “school” teams; rather, they are SDYA club teams. And Rugby is not restrictive in their team members. Everyone can play regardless of their experience, shape or size.. overweight, underweight, and every body type in between will find a place on the team. (I would also like to point out how feminine the team looks – there is no set “look” about female rugby players.)
Rugby is truly a team sport. There cannot be a “star” of the team because each person is working as a team member. If a try (score) is made it isn’t because the player is so far superior to the other players; it is because that player was in the right place at the right time and the other team members made certain the play could be made. It is interesting to note that that “most valuable” player of the game gets to wash the shirts of the team members, because the whole idea is to serve the team.
What other team sport thinks it is an honor to wash the uniforms of the other team members?
The rugby world are family. They welcome the competitors with open arms, warm smiles, a desire for a strong competitive match on the field, and serve a friendly meal and a cold drink afterwards. They offer respect and gratitude for a match well played. After all is said and done, the boots are off, the players showered, and the next practice taking shape, the Young Aztecs will be remembered for 3 things after every match:
. Fierce, unyielding effort on the pitch
. Dedication and loyalty to teammates and family
. The confidence to achieve anything they desire.
It is difficult to watch a rugby match without finding your heart in your mouth. With the exception of mouth guards, there is no other protective gear. In the game one cannot tackle a player above the shoulders or head, but sometimes this does happen and a penalty is called.
It is interesting to note that Rugby has less injuries than football, soccer or even cheer-leading! The game itself has few rules, (called laws in Rugby): action does not stop until someone scores, the ball goes out of bounds or a law is broken.
A good rugby team or side, as it is called, will respond instantly to a number of defensive and offensive situations, each member of the team moving independently within his role, but collectively for total effect. I am not going to discuss the rules of the game here but suffice it to say that it is a rugged, energetic game that has few, if any breaks during play.
When I asked my granddaughter what she liked so much about Rugby, her answer was not what I expected. She said: “Rugby is like family and friends. It doesn’t matter if it is an opposing team or not; after the game you want to go up to all of the players; hug them and congratulate them for a game well played.”
She said that the amazing support and help that she gets from all of the players makes her feel good. She loves the people and the sport. “Everyone wants to help each other.” She says that even though she is on the swim team and cross country teams, the feeling of rugby is one of love and she wants to see everyone successful. She said that probably the best part of the game is that “everyone respects each other.”
A comment made by an involved Mom is worthy of reading: “ The girls have really embraced the community and have, in turn, been welcomed with open arms and much love by all. We still have a way to go, as it can be hard to schedule games close by and finding teams to play can be the biggest challenge …but that is what happens when you pave the way. These girls are breaking the barrier; they are brave, fearless, strong, smart, heartfelt and feminine from the tops of their heads to the tips of their toes! It has been my pleasure and honor to know each and every one of them. These young women are truly an inspiration.”
You might be interested in reading some of the things the Aztec Rugby girls have said about their feelings as a team member :
“Most of the time I hate to show emotion, but sometimes I just have to share. The Youth Aztec Rugby team is not just an amazing club to be a part of, but also one of the best programs to ever come along. I have made friends with some of the most amazing girls, even though we have beat the crap outta each other on the field. I couldn’t have asked for a better team, coaches, and enormous support system from parents and the rugby guys. I am thankful for my stupidity to join, because it has been one of the best experiences of my life.”
Attention: To everyone reading this: it is not too late to join our family! We can always use girls of all shapes and sizes and scaredness levels. No experience needed no matter what school you go to!
For more information about the San Diego Young Aztecs RFC,
Nevin Kleege at 619-843-5627 or firstname.lastname@example.org or
Dave Bernard at 858-945-0708 or email@example.com
Practice and home games are held at Dusty Rhodes Park, right off of Sunset Cliffs.