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Caitlyn Conklin (left) runs from Amari Thompson (right) with the ball while practicing for Ohio University's Women's Club Rugby Team on Feb. 27, 2023, in Walter Fieldhouse.

OU’s Womxn's Rugby is a team on and off the pitch

Vocabulary like "scrum" and "ruck" may sound strange to outsiders, but for a select team at Ohio University, those terms are part of the sport they love: rugby.

OU's Womxn's Rugby is a club rugby team comprising all different skill sets of rugby as well as different identities. Open to all, the organization's goal is to create a welcoming environment where people can find a strong community of friends and feel comfortable in their skin while playing the two-century-year-old sport.

Invented in 1823 by William Webb Ellis, it is said that as a college student, he was playing a game of soccer — or European football — when he picked up the ball with his hand and ran into the opposing team's goal. Using one's hands, of course, breaks the cardinal rule of soccer, and Ellis is considered one of the first people to use this move in the game. According to the Hanazono Rugby Museum, this is how the sport was born.

The OU's Womxn's Rugby team will be competing in the annual Nash Bash Rugby Tournament from March 24 to March 26. The team will only play on Saturday, March 25. The tournament is unique because the lineups for both teams will be 15 vs. 15 instead of the 7 vs. 7 the team is used to.

For Leighton Heiner, a sophomore studying philosophy, this is her second time playing in the tournament, and she is really looking forward to it. In addition to the opportunity to play some great rugby, Heiner said the best part about the tournament was bonding with the team and meeting new people.

"It's just a really great opportunity to meet people from around the country," she said.

Heiner said she was initially drawn to the team because of how openly welcoming the team was toward LGBTQIA+ people.

"I wasn't out in high school," she said. "I didn't have any queer friends in high school, especially not in athletics, so I was like, 'this is going to be awesome,' and it has been."

In lieu of welcoming everyone, the team purposefully put the "x" in women to highlight their openness to as many different identities as possible.

"I think if someone wants to play a sport, they should be able to play wherever they want with whoever they want and whatever body they want to, no questions asked," Heiner said.

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Emma Perry offers to help Leslie Ostronic get up during Ohio University's Club Womxn’s Rugby Team Practice at Walter Field House on February 27, 2023 in Athens, Ohio.

For Amari Thompson, a freshman studying political science, this is her first time playing in this specific tournament. Still, she is somewhat of a rugby veteran, having played in high school. She said she is looking forward to Nash Bash because it's a chance to play with more teammates on the field as well as in a longer game.

"For high school, you can't play 15's back-to-back in one day," Thompson said. "So this is going to be a whole other experience. I think the most enjoyable part is I can't wait to be back playing 15's once again. We haven't done that in a minute, so I am super excited."

OU's Womxn's Rugby prides itself on encouraging all types of skill levels to join, no matter their experience with playing the sport.

Prior to joining the team, Taylor Connelly, a freshman studying journalism, had never played rugby but had experience with other sports, such as soccer. She said she wanted to try something new, and rugby seemed like a good fit.

What separated the two sports in Conelly's mind was the culture created by the team.

"Just showing up to the original meeting, it's very obvious that everyone is very welcoming, everyone is so nice," Connelly said. "The culture is unlike any other sport."

A reason for the lighthearted atmosphere, Connelly said, is the lack of pressure placed on the teammates. There is not a sense of everyone competing against each other that can sometimes be created on other teams.

"We're not super competitive, and we focus a lot on joy, having fun and being together and bonding," Connelly said.

The organization is not currently funded by SAC, or Senate Appropriation Commission, but Heiner said they are in the process of applying for tournament fees and other such expenses. The team earns most of its funding from alumni donations and fundraising. The team is currently working on a fundraiser selling March Madness brackets to OU students that can be purchased for $5.

Thompson is in agreement with Conelly, saying on and off the pitch, the team tries to build one another up. 

"We all try to build each other up and stuff and especially with OU's team, we have built a group that we can all get along amazingly," Thompson said. "Other teams sit there and scream and yell on the field but we have built a community that we are all accepted in one and that no matter what your like, weakness or strength, we're going to be there for you."


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