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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Club rugby looks to improve on and off the field in 56th season

The oldest club sports team at GW is looking to improve their performance this season and make improvements on and off the field. 

GW Men’s Rugby Football Club will celebrate its 56th anniversary after being founded in 1967. The team prides itself on having a spot for every type of player, utilizing the player’s skill sets from other athletic participation and highlighting players’ physical attributes, like speed or size, to help coach them into rugby players. 

“The University is not always necessarily all that supportive, and they don’t have a lot of mechanisms to help us on that front,” MacWilliams said. “It’s very much grassroots for us.” 

There are no lines on the field, room to run drills or storage space for equipment, so the team practices at an off-campus field on 23rd Street and Constitution Ave. that does not meet their practice needs. MacWilliams said they have been utilizing the space for the past 40 years.

“We practice on a little strip of dirt and rock and sometimes some grass down there at 23rd Street and Constitution Ave,” MacWilliams said. “That hasn’t changed. The Rugby Club has been practicing at 23rd Street and Constitution Ave for something like 40 years and there are no lines, there’s barely enough space to run what we need to run. And certainly, there’s no way to store equipment.”

Additionally, they don’t have medical trainers at their matches, MacWilliams said the University often is not able to provide any medical support at matches. 

“The University, over the years, has not been able to provide us, oftentimes with any, medical support at matches,” MacWilliams said. “That’s going to be problematic for us going forward. And again, it’s something that we almost certainly are just gonna have to pay out of pocket for.” 

Including rugby, all club teams at the university rely on the club members to assume the organizational and management responsibilities, as opposed to ​​intercollegiate sports which are administered and funded by the Department of Athletics & Recreation. The Office of Campus Recreation and the Student Association provide financial support to the Club Sports Program when funding is available

GWRFC received $5,085 from the university for their current season’s fiscal year, Hough said. The team also started collecting dues in Fall 2023 costing between $100 and $175 per semester to help facilitate additional funds needed for transportation, hiring referees and other emergency necessities. Hough said the team reached a 100% collection rate this semester, with some students having dues sponsored through the team’s alumni base.

The team relies on its large alumni network, which operates outside of the University. They have their own bank account and operate as a nonprofit organization that collects money with 5013c status, allowing them to allocate their donations as needed. When they need something like uniforms, training equipment or funding for travel, the alumni network is able to respond in kind. 

MacWilliams said their alumni network has grown stronger over time to have nearly 100 percent participation, due to the comradery teammates develop during their time playing.

“Our alumni growth has come out of this,” MacWilliams said. “We have very sizable endowments for an organization that came out of nothing. It has been a direct response to the lack of financial and oftentimes administrative support that comes from the University.” 

The club went to Ireland last spring after touring internationally four times in the last 20 years. 

Fly-half junior Sam Ogden who went on the trip last semester said the team allowed for many learning experiences and fun for the team.

“We played an exhibition match against a local Irish team and it was a lot of fun.” Ogden said. “They were admittedly a lot better than us, but it was just an exhibition match trying to get an understanding of Irish culture and Irish rugby and it was a really good time. And the trip overall was great for us as well.” 

Hough said the club fosters community for its players, many of whom are international students. With rugby rapidly growing in popularity across U.S. college campuses, MacWilliams said the team is attracting new members from all experience levels. MacWilliams estimates that out of approximately 30 players on the team, two out of three new members have no prior experience in the sport. 

Hough said the team relies on the high volume of international students on the team to contribute with non-American playing techniques, that are more nuanced, in matches as well as creating a home away from home for those international players. 

“A lot of the one-semester or one-year transfers come into GW struggling to make friends, so joining the rugby team is a quick way for them to make friends,” Hough said. “Especially if you are good at rugby, everyone is happy to have you. If it’s your first year in America, it’s a great place to go and meet people you might not have been able to meet otherwise.”

Ogden who is from Hong Kong said the team attracts many international students and provides a home for them, while also sharing new playing techniques with one another.

“I’m from Hong Kong, there’s also two more kids from Hong Kong,” Ogden said. “On the team there’s another kid from Japan, someone from China, so there’s like just a different culture blend that really adds to the diversity of the team and the playing styles, which is good for us both on and off the field.” 

Although the team fell 11-21 to nationally ranked No. 6 Susquehanna on Saturday, Susquehanna was ranked 5th in the country, so the team is proud of their ability to perform. 

“We managed to put some points on the board against them.” Ogden said. We’re really proud of that and we’re continuing to work at practice on drilling a certain play style and something that we think could work in the future and help us win games”. 

“From a performance standpoint, we really struggled last year,” MacWilliams said. “So the coaching staff and key leaders spent a lot of time over the summer working on ways we can improve, and we have already seen some early results, which is really exciting. 

Hough also said the team struggles to attract interested players in the first place due to rugby’s brute and contact-filled nature, but encourages curious individuals to try the sport. 

“it’s hard to get people to commit to a club sport to begin with and then for it to be a sport like rugby, that’s so physical and contact filled, it’s even more difficult,” Hough said. “So I think we’re at a disadvantage off the rip, but for the people who still choose to step outside of their comfort zone and try it, they all have fun and stick around, I guess I just encourage people to give it a try.”

Hough said that it is often difficult for players on the team to feel confident going into games against difficult opponents, because it often involves losses, but that he is confident in the team’s abilities this year. 

“This is the first time in my three years where we’ve had a group of guys that are probably able to compete with our oftentimes superior schedule,” Hough said. “We have three opponents in our schedule that are consistently ranked in the top ten in the nation. So it’s a struggle usually but this is one of those years where you look at the group of guys and feel very confident going into those games.”

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