Rugby Rises in Popularity Among Students and Alumni


Author: Julie Xu

With a fine disregard to the rules of soccer, William Webb Elis, a student who attended a boarding school in England called Rugby School, picked up the ball and ran with it. This marked the start of the sport now known around the world as rugby. Developed during the 19th century, rugby is now one of the most international sports outside of soccer.

Although rugby is not a new sport, it is not yet mainstream in the United States. There are many changes occurring worldwide that are helping to promote rugby. Young athletes throughout the country are being encouraged to understand and begin playing the game. Since the Olympic committee has declared rugby an official participating sport in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, the international push for the acknowledgement of rugby is now more evident than ever.

Throughout the course of its history, rugby was a method the British used to effectively train younger players how to react in situations of severe physical stress. In order for a player to succeed in this sport, he or she must use controlled aggression and mix these skills with strategy.

Even though rugby is less structured than football and soccer, some consider it more physically and mentally taxing. The fast reaction time that is required to play the sport of rugby requires the players to quickly adapt to conditions out on the field.

“Many people misunderstand the point of rugby and think it is all about aggression,” head coach of the men’s rugby team Jeremy Castro said. On the contrary, the first concept coaches teach in rugby is controlling this aggression. Injuries that occur during rugby games are usually due to the inexperience of the players. Exposing young athletes to rugby will not only increase the number of people involved in the sport, it will also help collegiate level athletes in their competition. The impact that rugby has had all around the world is clearly seen here on the Occidental campus.

Rugby first appeared at Occidental in 1965 as a men’s club sport. The heart and soul of the rugby teams at Occidental is Michael Godfree. Head coach of the rugby team from 1975 to 2008, Godfree is known as a legend not only at Occidental but also in the larger rugby community.  In 1981, the alumni from the previous men’s team started a new group called the Oxy Olde Boys, also known as the alumni team. Godfree encouraged the men to always have good sportsmanship as well as respect for not only themselves but also for the sport.

“Mike Godfree was not just coaching the men how to play rugby, he was coaching them how to be gentlemen,” head coach of the Olde Boys team Patrick Guthrie said.

While Godfree catered extensively to the men on his team and helped them learn to appreciate the sport, female athletes were more resistant. Although women’s rugby developed during the mid 1980s, it was not until 1995 that the sport began to pick up popularity.

“It is estimated that over 600 former players have come and gone between the men’s, women’s, and Olde Boys programs,” Castro said.

The interaction between the alumni and current students is one of Occidental rugby’s most outstanding points.

“The Oxy rugby team is like a community,” captain Mitchell Grummon (senior) said. Recently, the three teams have been spending much of their practice time on the field together.

“By having the three teams train together, each team can benefit from the knowledge of others,” Guthrei said.

There is no other Division III school that has produced more Eagles — professional USA Rugby players — than Occidental. With a new head coach leading the men this season, Castro is planning on continuing the legacy of rugby at Occidental.

The major issue the rugby team has had in the past is recruiting players who have played rugby as well as finding first-year players who will play until their senior year, bringing four years of experience to the team. “Our expectations are high this season and with the help of a strong program and unification of the women’s and Olde Boy’s teams, the rugby club of Occidental will prove that we are worthy of opportunities that will soon present themselves over the next couple of years,” Castro said. With the Olympic Games closing in, there are a few players who are considering representing the United States in Brazil in 2016.

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