Celebrating over 30 years of women’s rugby

The History of women’s rugby in the United States can be traced back to three teams that existed in 1972 – The Colorado State University Hookers at Fort Collins; the University of Colorado, at Boulder; and the University of Illinois, at Champaign. During the mid 1970’s women’s teams began to spring up on college campuses across the United States. As those players graduated they went on to set up teams near cities and urban centers. At that time there was only one division for all women’s rugby.

In 1975 United States Rugby Football Union was formed and contained four territories. At this time the women had their own Board of Directors and followed in parallel USARFU with four territories (East, Midwest, West and Pacific).

In 1978 the first Women’s National Championships was held. The Chicago Women’s Rugby Club in Chicago, Illinois hosted this event. The winner of that championship was Portland, Maine.

In 1985 the first semblance of a national team was formed. An ‘invitation-only’ team was put together and made up of, arguably, the top women playing the game at the time. The team was named WIVERN and toured throughout England and France. The team finished the tour undefeated. Many of these players went on to be selected to the 1991 World Cup Team.

In 1987 the USA Women’s National Team was officially born with their first match against the Canadian Women’s National Team. Although the women were not permitted to wear the Eagle logo this match was sanctioned by Rugby Canada and USA Rugby. USA and Canada began holding an annual match, which became known as the CanAm series. For ten years the Women Eagles went undefeated in this test series.

In 1990 the Women’s National Team, competing under the name ‘USAPresidents 15’, traveled to New Zealand to compete in the historic Women’s World Rugby Festival. The WNT posted a record of 3-1 with their only loss coming at the hands of New Zealand.

In 1991 the first Women’s Rugby World Cup was held at Cardiff Arms Park in Cardiff, Wales. Coached by Beantown’s Kevin O’Brian, a Welshman himself, and Minnesota’s Chris Leach, a South African the stage was set for the US Woman to bring home the Cup. Defeating New Zealand in semi-final play the USA Women advanced to the finals where they defeated England.

Also in 1991 the first woman was elected to serve on the USARFU Board of Directors. Jamie Jordan was elected Treasurer for the BOD.

In 1996 the first assembly of a National Women’s 7’s team was formed. Emil Signas held tryouts to pick a team to compete in the first Women’s International 7’s tournament to be held during the Hong Kong 7’s event. The team competed under the name ‘Atlantis’, the prestigious National 7’s program created by Emil, and finished their tour undefeated. Many of these players went on to compete for the USA Women’s 7’s Team in the Hong Kong 7’s Women’s Division.

In 1997 The U23 Women’s National Team was formed. USA Women’s National Team Head Coach Frank Bouvert appointed Penn State Coach Peter Steinburg to be Head Coach for the U23 Women’s National Team program. At a very emotional event in the CanAm Series the US Women’s National Team celebrated their 10-year anniversary by cheering on the Women’s U23 National Team in their first test against Canada.

This is only a fraction of the history of Women’s Rugby in this country. Over the last ten years US Women’s Rugby has seen the development of two collegiate divisions, a high school division, an U19 Girls National Team program, and become the first rugby playing nation to have a woman president of it’s union.

Today Women’s Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in both the United States, with teams competing in six divisions domestically, and across the World, where the US Women’s National Team Program fields five representative teams; U19, U23, 7’s, USA ‘A’, and the Women Eagles. It is important that we remember and recognize the women and men that have paved the way for the growth of US Women’s Rugby.