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Local women participate in rugby league

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Two women collide, and crash to the ground. The ball tumbles out of grasp. Another player picks it up and darts up the field. The two on the ground quickly rise and race after her.

The Avengers, an Ithaca area recreational rugby team formed in 2009, encourages women of all ages to get into a contact sport.

Men have long dominated full contact sports such as football or wrestling, according to the NCAA’s Sports Sponsorship and Participation Reports from the past few decades. Due to fear of injury, women are often deterred from playing aggressive sports, according to the Women in Sports Foundation. Rugby is the exception to that rule; the NCAA report registers more than three times as many female ruggers than male.

Founding member of the Avengers, Amanda Kempf , a.k.a.“Waak” who played rugby on Cornell’s college team, said that she began playing because she missed the sport, and the only opportunity to play was a short summer season.

“There were several of us in that same position,” Kempf said. “We figured it would be a good idea to start a team.”

The predecessor to American football, rugby is sport that has yet to gain mainstream popularity in the US. Alex Goff, editor in chief of Rugby Magazine, said that this is due to the recreational attitude towards rugby globally.

“There’s a historical connection to that; since the USA has their own culture and made their own form of football,” Goff said. “That’s why it’s nowhere near as popular in the US as it is in the UK. It’s not a game that has been really promoted beyond recreation. Rugby union was not recognized as a professional sport until the mid-90s.”

Ruggers attempt to get the ball into the end zone, while only allowed to pass the ball backwards, and constantly being taken out at the knees. The only form of protection worn is a mouth guard, despite the rough play.

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Injuries are to be expected. Liz Richey, a.k.a. “Gouda” says she’s been injured twice due to the physical nature of the sport.

The Avengers includes women of all ages, from 18 to Betsy Cutter, a grandmother.
“As far as age, they treat me as just another rugger,” said Cutter.

“Oh yeah, in practices they’ll nail us in a heartbeat,” said Richey, a mother herself.

Some of the women are ex-college or high-school players, while a few have never played before in their lives, said Kempf. The team accepts all applicants and teaches them the game.

“We start from the basics. Women’s rugby is a lot about the techniques that you use. So safety is first, we just start teaching how to do safe contact because that is not something that for a lot of women people have done before,” said Kempf.

The sport offers women a chance to do something different and exciting. For the Avengers rugby offers exercise, fun, and a friendship. The team shares a strong bond, according to their coach, Annemarie Farrell, who also coaches Ithaca College’s men’s rugby team and is a professor at the college.

“When I talk about the Avengers I spend a lot of time chatting about how lucky I feel that we all found each other, because making friends as an adult isn’t that easy,” Farrell said. “For many Avengers, their rugby friends have become a huge part of their Ithaca experience.”

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