Even before she became a member of Howard University rugby, Sydney Poe was focused on representing black women in sports where they are sometimes scarce.
She came across the fledgling club program in a group chat, and decided to join the cause.
“I played lacrosse in high school. I’ve always kind of been into the idea of representation,” Poe said. “I think Black representation is so important in a sport like rugby, a sport like lacrosse, there’s not a lot of black representation, especially black women.”
Takunda Ruskie, a co-founder of the Howard University rugby squad, had a little more experience with the sport growing up in the Baltimore area. She says she picked it up in high school and fell in love with sport. She also noticed the small number of black athletes participating.
“I do not remember a team in high school — whether their club, whether rec, whether for fun — and there being more than five black girls on the team. And mind you, rugby especially playing in the 15s, format, you’re usually having a roster of about 35 to 45, sometimes 50,” Ruskie remembered.
“So if you think about that, that is a pretty low percentage of African-American girls. And it was I would say it was the same on the male side as well from what I would see going to tournaments and things of that nature.”
Howard University rugby growing despite challenges
Rugby has been catching on at HBCUs over recent years, but mostly on the men’s side. But there that may soon be changing.
“There is some trying to get up, such as Southern University, North Carolina A&T, University of Maryland Eastern Shore just to think of a few, because I have talked to some of those girls who were trying to do that. However, for the most part, rugby is still pretty male dominated,” Ruskie said. “So when it did start entering HBCU’s, it just got big on the men’s side. For example, Prairie View men, they’re competitive. Morehouse — they have a competitive team. So I would say there are HBCU rugby teams that are competitive. It’s just very uncommon to see on the women’s side.”
One of the big issues is a lack of structure.
“When doing this, there really isn’t a clear cut process in terms of getting the sport from the intramural to club to NCAA, a it’s a lot of loopholes and running around offices, things of that nature,” Ruskie said. “Because there just really aren’t that many clean cut processes at a lot of these universities for these opportunities.”
Sometimes even securing a spot to hold a match can be an issue. Saturday’s match against George Washington University will be held at Greene Stadium on Saturday at 4:30 PM. It was supposed to be held an hour earlier for a youth clinic to help spread the game to the youth. The game got pushed back, which led to the clinic being cancelled. While disappointed, the team is excited about spreading the sport and growing their program.
“We have many girls who have come into the sport, love this sport, bought into the sport. And those girls — many of them are freshmen and sophomores — are shadowing myself, Sydney, some of our other leaders and are going to take over this team and do a fantastic job to get us to that next level,” Ruskie said. “And I have no doubt in my mind come three, five years from now, those women who have watched us, who have been a part of this journey with us, who we have recruited, will get this team to where it should be, an NCAA sanctioned program.”