BOISE — Rugby is gaining popularity across the United States and here at home. In a momentous move, the West Ada School District sanctioned women's rugby this year - the first district in the nation to do so.
Rugby isn't sanctioned statewide, just at the district level for West Ada - which is unprecedented. It's a partnership between Rugby Idaho and the school district where they're fully supporting the high school girls' fall 7-on-7 season.
Let's just say: these chicks can ruck and roll.
Eagle High School senior Stephanie Davies was hooked from the get-go.
“I started my freshman year,” Davies said. “After the first practice, I was like I got to come back.”
Players say the sport pushes boundaries.
“I feel more confident when I play because it's like, hey, I know I can do this,” Davies said.
“I’ll be like, hey, I'm playing rugby now to some kids at school and they’re like, ‘oh really, you going to come at me right now?’ And I'm like I'm not going to tackle you right now!” Rocky Mountain High School junior Makayla DeBry said.
DeBry and the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies are tearing up the field, too.
“You get bruises everywhere! It's fun,” DeBry said. “I didn't think girls would play rugby... you have to be so tough."
Now that it's sanctioned in the West Ada School District, five high schools have girls' seven's programs this fall – Rocky Mountain, Eagle, Centennial, Mountain View and Meridian high schools.
“Rugby has never been sanctioned into an entire school district. Typically it’s sanctioned into a single school and it’s played as a club sport,” Rugby Idaho Executive Director Audrey Billingsley told KTVB. "[It’s] increasing opportunities for women to have a variety of sports.”
"I'm really happy to be part of it,” DeBry added.
Rugby Idaho helped make it happen - as did Title IX.
“You’re wanting to make sure not only is there a balance, but that you're taking girls that haven't played a sport before and getting girls that wouldn’t have otherwise played a sport into playing sports - get them active, healthy,” Billingsley said. “The district support in this is instrumental in growing the game of rugby for women’s.”
Rugby is a sport Billingsley says has health benefits because of non-stop play, weight-bearing exercises and muscle building; studies and research are showing long-term benefits of the sport, she says.
Lifelong skills such as leadership and communication are also built, while the sport opens doors for higher education, college scholarships and professional play. There are major league women’s teams, club teams, and now, the opportunity to become an Olympian for women’s sevens rugby.
“When I'm looking at colleges I make sure that’s a number one priority: they have to have rugby,” Davies said.
Davies and DeBry say their teams have become their families; they have camaraderie with one another and the nature of the sport promotes inclusivity with players of all shapes and sizes, from all backgrounds and with a variety of athletic ability.
"Now they're like all my sisters,” DeBry said.
"It’s just always been a rugby thing, it’s just a close-knit community,” Davies said. “I just love it so much.”
Rugby Idaho is talking to other school districts about following in West Ada's footsteps. They hope this is a springboard to supporting girls' 15's rugby in the spring, and eventually the sport of rugby as a whole at the state level.
If you want to watch the girls play, they have their district tournament this Saturday, October 13 at Centennial High School.