Youth Rugby 3

Helping Central Oregon Kids “Try” a New Sport

Most people wouldn’t automatically pair ladies with rugby. However, women in Central Oregon are quickly taking to the sport—which dates back to 1823—and eagerly working to share the fun with the younger generation.

Bend’s adult all-women rugby team, the Lady Roughriders, got a lot of attention this year in the media and rugby community. They won the Pacific Northwest Rugby Football Union Regional Championships last spring, thus adding a huge milestone in making the sport more of a staple in the area. Amidst the excitement, the team’s Vice President, Kirdy Molan, has been working with Rugby Oregon to grow the sport by sharing it with local youth.

After taking up the sport three years ago, Molan found that she not only enjoyed playing, but that she had found a solid group of friends and a whole new lifestyle.

“I’ve become very passionate about teaching kids, especially girls, how to play rugby,” says Molan. “For me, I feel like it would have been a game changer if I would have been given the opportunity to play at a younger age. You learn so much about teamwork, how to be strong and also what real sportsmanship looks like.”

Molan is Central Oregon’s Rugby Development Officer, working with Rugby Oregon and the Bend Parks and Recreation Department to teach Central Oregon youth about the sport. She visits middle schools and high schools as a special guest, teaching the kids how to play touch rugby in P.E. classes and providing information about youth leagues.

You learn so much about teamwork, how to be strong and also what real sportsmanship looks like.  
–Kirdy Molan

“Going out and playing touch rugby with the kids is a great way for them to get a fun and comfortable introduction,” says Molan. “They can get a sense of what the game is like and learn the basics quickly.”

Rugby is often thought of as being dangerous, particularly in the U.S., because pads aren’t worn. Being more familiar with football, Molan explained that what people don’t understand is that rugby is a slower moving sport and the tackling aspect is very different. Kids learn how to play touch-style first and are then taught proper tackling techniques as they get older to ensure safety for themselves and other players.

“There are injuries just like in any sport,” says Molan. “But when the rules are followed, it really is a safe and fun game.”

Last spring, Molan and Rugby Oregon put together a co-ed sixth through eighth grade league. The league was touch, not tackle, and involved a two-hour weekly commitment from the players. The league will be starting up again next spring with in-school instructions taking place throughout the fall.

The hope is that the sport will gain enough traction—similar to the Portland area—to have more youth leagues, which will in turn foster enough interest to have competitive high school teams.

“My own goal is to eventually have a female rugby team in every high school in Central Oregon,” said Molan. “It is a really cool sport for girls to get involved with and it would be amazing to see that happen.”

Molan explained that the culture of the sport promotes a sense of support and friendliness you don’t often find in other athletic programs. The competitiveness is there in a fun way, but it doesn’t turn into hostility, which is a great thing for young girls to learn. It is all about having a good time and developing healthy relationships with their peers.

“When you tackle another player, you help them up right after,” says Molan. “You socialize with each other after the games and build lasting friendships with the other team.”

The after-game socializing is a huge part of rugby culture, and is often referred to as the “third half.” In high school and youth leagues, the third half is supervised by coaches and usually involves the home team taking the away team out for pizza. It is a way to show appreciation for the team taking the time to come out for the game and to build a unified rugby community.

“It is a great community sport,” says Molan. “Everyone gets to be included. There are so many positions on a team that we need big and small players and individuals with all different skill levels. No one gets left out. I think it is an incredibly empowering sport for women to be involved with.”