This story begins in August, when I realize that Beantown’s annual college tournament must be approaching, and every year I think about reaching out to the team and offering them some books, and this year I actually did it. I circle the practice fields, in the shadow of the Harvard coliseum, sorting out the best place to park, realizing that while climbing a fence may have worked in my playing days, I was not about to lug or hoist 25-pound boxes of books with me over or under a fence. I finally park in a civilized manner on Western Avenue across from the Bus Stop pub, another old familiar landmark. Walking out onto the field, dewy grass underfoot, I feel like the old Doc Graham character in the movie, Field of Dreams, and half expect to look down and see my business casual khakis and work shirt transform magically into rugby shorts and jersey, Clarks into cleats, skin and bones into muscle again. Alas, no. As the sun sinks lower in the sky, the heat of the day slowly eases and surrenders to cooler waves of air moving across the field. It’s a beautiful night for rugby practice. There must be forty players circled up. I smile, recalling the Alma Mater statue at the University of Illinois, with a figure, arms outstretched, and the inscription: “To thy happy children of the future those of the past send greetings.” Or, in this case, books!
A couple of weeks later, I am talking to A Guy in the publishing world, and he asks how the book is doing. “Great,” I say, “I’ve filled one notebook and started into the next, making good progress.” My head is so into the next book, the work in progress, this is how I answer, but I see immediately by the slightly confused look on his face that he meant the first book. “Oh, that book.” I smile, close my eyes, and have to chuckle to myself a little bit. How do I answer that? How do I explain that the metrics have changed, that success has been re-defined in terms of how many books we’re able to move out of our laundry room. Plus, there’s a new house rule: no printing anything new until we clear out the existing stock.
Since the tournament is local this year, in Acton, I decide to swing out and catch part of the Beantown-Providence game. It’s early September, 95 degrees and humid, yet there are the first red-tipped leaves showing that fall is on its way, bringing to mind lines from the poem, “blonde and sad skeletons, whistle, whistle,” by Virginia Rice Smith (Sundress Publications, 2014):
“Through glass, map a world without sound: wine
blue, lime-russet trees draping yellow concrete – primary,
tangible. Death continues with brisk affection
and red galls, leaf-tips lit like nerve endings.”
“Green leaf, red leaf, green again. Only August,
and already falling."
Along the sideline, I see only a few players from my playing days, one actually still playing, a few involved with coaching and refereeing, and another retiree just happening by. They seem not to have aged a bit. I run into MaryBeth Mathews, who played for Beantown six years, started the Portland WRFC in 1977, and has been coaching Bowdoin for 21 years. Their team is well-represented at the tournament, and seems to be doing well. I wonder aloud while talking to her, how things have changed over the years. I had expected her answer to be maybe about funding, the level of support from the college, the fitness level of women joining the team, or the changing organizational structure and national requirements. Her answer: “It’s more about how things haven’t changed, and maintaining the rugby culture.”
Now, since ‘rugby culture’ could mean a lot of different things to different people, I ask her to expand on this. Her answers hearken back to my first days of playing for the University of Illinois.
“The rugby culture is inclusive, and one built on respect. Everyone is welcome and can belong, which is huge to a freshman woman just joining the team, and transitioning to college. There are no cuts, no tryouts. Everyone can contribute to the team success. You don’t have to like everyone; it’s a big team and they may not all be your best friends, but you do have to respect everyone. The team had two slogans last year: #nostigma and #nodrama; #nostigma meaning, within the team culture of respect, there are no negative labels for being who you are, and #nodrama meaning, we’ll communicate about issues or differences and avoid drama because we respect each other and because this is what works.”
“Each person brings something to the team. You may not be the fastest or strongest, but you may bring leadership qualities, a great sense of humor, communication skills, a different cultural background, a work ethic… And teammates are there for you - they’ll be there with you when you’re down, and they’ll laugh and celebrate with you when things are good.”
Coach Mathews applies “athlete-centered coaching” – a “humanistic approach that enhances athlete learning and development through sport. At its best, it shares power, enables athletes to make decisions, and produces inspiring results from inspired people. The women know and buy into the importance of strength and conditioning training for a contact sport; they know they increase their chances of getting hurt if they’re not in shape.”
She also describes the transformational leadership displayed by her players. The team had recently participated in a workshop facilitated by the campus Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, where they talked about why they played, why they make the commitment of time and energy to the sport, and to each other, even showing up to the workshop at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning, and the one thing that never came up was winning.
“It has never been about the winning.”
Yet, the funny thing is that winning is just what happens, when everything is aligned and clicking, when there is no fried chicken in the clubhouse (Red Sox 2011), and everyone is pulling for each other. Watch a rugby game. If you’re not playing, you’re on the sideline watching and cheering on your teammates.
Congratulations to Bowdoin on an undefeated season, and finishing fourth in the Division II National Championships!
AboutI have to confess, the night before I dropped the books off at practice, I had a dream that I was looking for my mouth guard. In my mind, in my dreams, I am still ready to play!
Virginia Rice Smith’s complete book of poetry, When I Wake It Will Be Forever, is available on Amazon.com. Virginia’s poems are both accessible and stand as works of art, ready to be explored and savored again and again. The title of the poem “blonde and sad skeletons, whistle, whistle,” is a variation on a line translated from the poem, Trilce (XXVII), by Peruvian poet, César Vallejo.
MaryBeth Mathews played a total of six years for Beantown, one as a member of the original team in the fall of 1976, and again 1988 to 1992, returning to Beantown after starting Portland WRFC (1977 to 1986), and has been coaching Bowdoin for 21 years. Twenty-one years! Speaking on the topic of coaching women’s rugby: “I could go on and on about these topics (women, rugby, confidence, athlete-centered coaching, mindset) and maybe it is my passion about these subjects and guiding a new crop of women that join the team each year, through four years, that keeps coaching so invigorating, challenging and rewarding for me.”
For more information about Bowdoin Women’s Rugby Club, please visit their website: http://athletics.bowdoin.edu/sports/wrugby/index
For more info about Beantown, visit: http://beantownrugby.com/
Coming NextI will continue with this theme on women, girls, and confidence in the next post.
Post ScriptHappy New Year! Sorry about the long silence, just busy celebrating the many miracles of the season (more on miracles in a future post), Christmas, Hanukkah, and mailing my cards out before Christmas for the first time in my life.
Happy Martin Luther King Day. Hoping that someday we truly can all get along.
We are also now in the football playoff season, and hoping that Coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have a few more miracles up their sleeves! Though, perhaps football could be a better, safer sport if it borrowed a few things from rugby, but this is also a topic for another day. Good luck Patriots!
A couple of quick health and safety tips:If you get jalapeño in your eye (perhaps while making chili for the football game) – use milk as an eye wash.
If you think you’re getting a cold or flu – take some elderberry syrup. There are a couple of locally produced versions from Vermont and Maine:
Switching to a more serious note -
My heart goes out to the citizens of France, suffering terrorism on their streets, and grieving the loss of loved ones. And also to the hundreds, if not thousands of people, reportedly mostly women and children, killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria. And the Unknown Girl, perhaps not even ten years old, who was used to set off a bomb in a market place also in the area of Borno State, Nigeria. All of this, all within the past couple of weeks. Nor has the world forgotten the 200 lost girls of Nigeria, taken one night last April, we just don’t know what to do or where to look for you. What is wrong with this world? There is a strong case to be made for expanding the rugby culture as far and wide as we can, to create a world where all are respected and can live in peace.
#NoStigma #NoDrama #BringBackOurGirls
ReferencesSmith Rice, Virginia. 2014. When I Wake It Will Be Forever. Knoxville: Sundress Publications.
© 2015 Rosemary A. SchmidtRose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life.” Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact the author.