Rugby Photo Gallery

By Anisa Berry, 17, View Park Prep HS
Print This Post
Anisa plans to continue playing rugby after high school because it's an important part of her life.

Until I started playing rugby I hated sports.

I’ve always been too strong for my own good. When I was 7, I was five inches taller than other girls at my school. By age 9, I could pick up my mom. I played basketball for five years but I hated it so much that my parents would have to force me to go. During games, I’d accidentally elbow a girl in the stomach and she would land on the ground because I was stronger. It would be a foul and the coach would bench me so I wouldn’t be kicked out of the game for having too many penalties. After that there was soccer. When I would try to get the ball I would accidentally kick the opponent (I swear I was going for the ball). I soon realized that sports weren’t for me. I just wasn’t an athlete, so I stopped playing.

Then in ninth grade my English teacher, Mr. Krohn, asked me if I was interested in trying a new sport. I asked him what it was and he told me rugby. He told me it was a rough sport, but I was always interested in playing football because my dad played professional football for the San Diego Chargers, so I thought I might give it a try.

The next year, Mr. Krohn put together a rugby team at my high school, View Park Prep. The first practice was on a Tuesday after school, at a local high school (my school is too small to have its own field). I didn’t know what to expect. There were at least 10 girls at practice. We did a drill that showed us the proper way to tackle. We had to get up from the ground, run forward and tackle the tackle bag, while wearing weights wrapped around our legs and arms.

Photo by Rene Franco, 17,
Providence HS (Burbank)

In another drill we had to jump up and keep punching the punching bag until Mr. Krohn blew the whistle. I was tired after the 10th time, but I kept going so I could get better. Mr. Krohn told us we were doing the drill because when you get tackled during a game, you are expected to get up right away because the game doesn’t stop like in football. The next day my body was aching. My back was sore, I could barely move my arms and every time I sat down I cringed. But I still wanted to play because I was curious and wanted to experience a game.

My coach taught us the essentials. It was hard to understand because I was a beginner. There are two main positions: backs and forwards. The backs are the faster runners and they tend to be smaller and more agile players. They are similar to quarterbacks and wide receivers in football. The forwards are the bigger and stronger players. They are similar in size and ability to linebackers and linemen.

A scrum occurs when a rule has been broken and you have to restart the game. The forwards on each team crouch across from each other. The ball is then thrown in between them and both teams compete for possession. At first when I got into a scrum I was hesitant because of the set-up. For a scrum to be powerful, everyone has to hold on to each other. I was part of the first row. I had to wrap my arm around my teammate and when I crouched down one of my teammates behind me in the second row had to put her arm between my legs to grab my shirt. It was a surprise at first, but I got used to it after several practices.

And when you cross the goal line, which in rugby is called the try line, you score five points. It’s called a “try.”

My role was to tackle hard

At the second practice I learned the forward position of prop. I was told that as a prop I need to use my strength to help my team gain and keep possession of the ball. I am expected to tackle the hardest and keep going forward while the opposing team is trying to tackle me. I was one of the bigger girls so I wasn’t surprised that I was placed as a prop. When it was time to practice tackling I could just do it. My coach demonstrated a tackle. I had to crouch down and wrap my arms around my opponent’s legs to get her down. After I made a good tackle my coach said, “I could feel that over here!” After practice I was exhausted from all the tackling, but I was happy I finally did something right in a sport.

We had only four practices before our first game. I was so nervous I forgot my position. When the referee would call for a scrum I would stand. Then my coach would yell at me from the sidelines, “Get in there.” My teammates would pass me the ball and I would freeze while two or three girls were coming at me because I was scared of getting hurt or messing up. One time my teammate Margo snatched the ball from me and I saw her back as she ran to the try line and scored. I did get to find out how strong I am. I tackled the biggest girl on the other team. One of the girls on my team couldn’t get the girl down. I was running fast enough that I knocked her to the ground. I immediately grabbed the ball and passed it to someone else. We won the game.

As I kept playing, I got better. I was still tired during practices, but I was getting in better shape. I started to feel more confident. My passing improved and I got better at breaking tackles, although I do get tackled during games like everyone else. It wasn’t until this year when I learned the stiff-arm technique, when you hold your arm straight out to protect yourself from getting tackled, that I was able to make it to the try line and score without getting tackled. I also started playing for another team, the Santa Monica U-19 girls, so I could get more experience.

My motivation to play comes from knowing I’m needed. Before rugby my strength was a curse. When I play rugby my strength turns into a gift. In one of our games during our second season my teammates and I worked together to score by mauling. A maul is when several players from both teams push against each other to try to get possession of the ball. The other team had possession. “One, two, three, push,” my teammates and I yelled. We kept pushing and eventually the girl on the opposing team who had the ball fell down. We grabbed the ball and one of my teammates scored. I felt like I scored because I helped get the ball there. Rugby is a great sport because teamwork is a major part of the game.

Rugby is tough, but it’s not all hard work. After games, whether we lose or win, there are picnics and barbeques with the other team. We chat with them. It’s more like they’re your family.

Rugby is also a stress reliever. I have had days when I am angry because of conflicts at school or at home. We practice our tackles and all the negative feelings disappear. I leave practice happy. After a game, win or lose, I always feel good because tackling relieves stress.

Most people aren’t familiar with rugby. I still get “What is rugby?” I say, “A sport that football came from.” People also ask, “Don’t you get hurt?” Injuries sometimes occur. I’ve chipped my wrist bone and broken a finger. After every game I’ve played, I’ve found bruises.

I’m not fragile

I don’t mind those questions but what annoys me is, “Girls play rugby?” or “Why do you, a girl, play rugby?” Students at my school think you’re violent if you play rugby. I wish people would understand that it’s a sport. No one says to a football player, “You must be violent because you play football.” I think society creates the assumption of what it means to be a woman. Girls are supposed to be cheerleaders. They can play basketball but not a contact sport. If a girl does a contact sport, like boxing, she has to be violent, there has to be something wrong with her. The reason I play isn’t because I’m violent but because it’s a sport that makes me feel good about myself.

Not so long ago I was told by a family member that I would be prettier if I lost 70 pounds. I believed this person, so every time I saw someone who was smaller than a size eight I would envy her. Starting rugby I was still insecure about how I would fit in. There were some really fast girls on the team and I saw that as what was important because being fast was important in the other sports I had played. I was not fast, but I was strong. To my surprise, I fit in perfectly.

I have more confidence in myself because I’ve seen that being a strong female isn’t a negative thing. I’ve realized that being strong and muscular can make someone more beautiful, not less. That tackling girls to the ground does not compromise femininity but increases assertiveness and confidence. And that women can do what a lot of people think we can’t do. I consider myself an athlete and this feels good to say.