Rugby empowers women at Temple University

Women’s rugby club members bring attention to female athletes in male-dominated sports.

(From left to right) Hannah Daniele, Honor Burke, Sierra Pullano, Kendra Schmit and Alizee Baribaud stand in the STAR Complex on Aug. 20, 2019. | CLAUDIA SALVATO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

For some 30 women at Temple University, an exciting addition to the college grind is participating in the club rugby team.

Women’s Rugby Club President Sierra Pullano wants to challenge the perception that rugby is only for men. 

“I think playing any sport, in general, is empowering but especially a sport that automatically everybody’s thought process goes straight to male,” said Pullano, a junior environmental studies major. “It’s cool to try to change that stereotype.” 

Temple’s women’s rugby club was founded in 1995 and is a student-run competitive club sport. They are a Division I member of the Mason Dixon Conference and compete against local schools and even travel to face off against teams across the U.S.

The history of women’s rugby is vague, with the first documented game only occurring in 1968 despite recordings leading back to the late-19th century, according to the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO). 

It took Temple over a decade after its men’s club was founded in 1982 to recognize women’s rugby.

Honor Burke, public relations chair and a sophomore theater, film and media arts major, said the team gets less attention than their male counterparts but hopes Temple students will come to their games.

“A lot of people on campus don’t even know that we have a women’s rugby team,” Burke said. “I know at least one person has just assumed I played for the men’s team somehow when I told them I played rugby.”

This past spring, the team came in second place at the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference, runs more than 50 collegiate rugby programs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia.  

Deja O’Riordan, junior media studies production major, said she hopes the women’s side will grow.

“I have played sports all my life. I did cross country, basketball, lacrosse, soccer and karate,” O’Riordan said. “None of those sports makes me feel what I do when I wear cherry and white. I play the same game as the men, so I feel very much empowered.”

In team sports such as rugby, the girls come together to empower each other. 

“It’s just such a close-knit group of girls,” said Burke. “I don’t know if tough’s a good word, but we are tough but also welcoming.”

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