Medford, NJ May 10, 2016 – Creating a long-lasting and successful college rugby program does not just depend on maintaining a good standing with the University administration. Another important key to success is creating and maintaining a positive image both on campus and in the community. Developing a socially responsible rugby club that gives back to their community and school can show how beneficial rugby can be in creating lifelong skills, such as leadership, cooperation, team building, communication and more.
The National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) is committed to encouraging rugby players to give back to their local community and school by undertaking worthy projects. By doing so, this not only serves those in need but also builds a positive image for the rugby club. To support this, NSCRO recently introduced its Leadership Development Program. The Program is led by retired Colonel Tom Trumps along with four others, all leaders in their fields. The Program’s objective is clear: “To provide student-athletes and coaches engaged in college club rugby with guidance on ways to better serve their respective club, school and community.”
A number of clubs have embraced this path and found great success. Two of them are the men’s clubs at Eastern Connecticut State University and Mount St. Mary’s University. Here are their stories.
Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, CT
For years now Eastern’s men’s rugby club has supported charitable work in the Greater Willimantic area, in particular that of the Covenant Soup Kitchen of Willimantic.
“We wanted to make sure the skill set that we are developing in our players serves them well both on and off the pitch, and a big component of that is the ability to give back. If you’re able to parley that with a club environment, especially with the camaraderie that rugby shares, it really does intensify it. So we introduced our club years ago to the Soup Kitchen,” said ECSU Assistant Coach Ray Aramini.
Multiple times a year the club volunteers at the charity, which provides breakfast and lunch 365 days a year as well as also serving as an emergency community food pantry. In the last few years the club has developed its largest and most successful fundraising for the Covenant Soup Kitchen: a Polar Plunge. What started with 26 guys jumping in a river in the winter has turned into an annual event that has raised a quarter of a million dollars for the Soup Kitchen. Aramini refers to the donations as a ‘game changer for the services the Soup Kitchen can now provide’.
Now a board member at the Covenant Soup Kitchen, Aramini is proud to have his club so involved with a cause he’s dedicated countless hours towards. “I’m just beside myself with pride that this has gone in the direction that we were hoping… and it caught fire. The whole concept of giving back is now how the club identifies itself.”
However the club has gone much farther than just helping the Soup Kitchen. The club has done everything from picking up trash, cleaning lawns, moving students into dorms and even breaking down and setting up charity events. It’s also not uncommon for rugby alumni who stayed in the area post-graduation to help out with community service events.
“Now that this club is competing on a national level thanks to the leadership of head coach Joe Pardee and Ray, the hard work by its members both on and off the field have really paid off,” said 2012 alumnus, Pat Scully. Scully further remarked that “NSCRO has really legitimized the sport for small colleges like ours and more people are going to find out about it because rugby is becoming a positive part of the college experience.”
Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, MD
When the current Director of Operations and Head Coach, Jay Myles, was invited to the Mount four years ago by rugby club members, it was without hesitation. However, the University was not as enthusiastic about the club. They had been considering disbanding the club due to disciplinary issues.
Myles set out his expectations at his first club meeting: “I expected that we will be very competitive, you will work hard as both a student and athlete, you will train regularly and learn to be very disciplined. If that’s something you want to be involved with – that is fantastic. If not then I will find something else to do with my time and energy. At the end of the day it’s all about rugby, but it’s your choice what you want to do”. The club accepted Jay’s “ways” and they began a new path towards success.
From the start, Myles believed that giving back to their local community was a key to building a positive image and showing the University a positive side of rugby. He had the club participate in the ‘Walk A Mile In Her Shoes’ event, a benefit for abused children and battered women. Now an annual September occasion, the rugby players and coaches, along with other sports clubs, wear high heels while they walk a mile around campus as a symbol of being in uncomfortable situations. Following the walk, they sit down and have a positive, engaging and inspiring conversation about the topic with community members on campus.
Myles’ goal to change the club’s mindset and increase training standards as well as expectations on and off the pitch has had amazing results. From encouraging the students to do things like visit children’s hospitals and orphanages during NSCRO playoff travel, to working hard to become as a good player as possible, the changed mindset has resulted in both on-field success and tremendous support from the University – who are now committed partners working with Myles in building an outstanding college rugby program. In fact the once almost-disbanded club has turned around so much that they’ve qualified three years in a row for the NSCRO Small College National Championship at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado.
“We’re really turning the page in how the University views rugby. Instead of having a problematic program, they all of a sudden started to see, that they are no longer having troublesome parties but instead are training five days a week,’” said Myles. And now having just won the 2016 NSCRO National Championship, the club can perhaps put a ‘bow’ on Chapter 1 of their rebirth and open a new Chapter for their continued growth and success on campus and in the community. And how did their community react to their Championship?
After seeing this recognition, Coach Myles remarked, “I am extremely humbled by the incredible support of our community on and off campus. This is a true testament to the young men of Mount Rugby and how they have created a connection with their surroundings!!!!! Very humbled and proud to say I have had the opportunity to coach these amazing men! “
NSCRO salutes Eastern, the Mount and all other clubs who are making a positive difference in their community and on campus by proving that rugby is a lot more than 80 minutes of a game played on grass.
Together with NSCRO, these clubs who are leading the way to better players, colleges, and communities, are showing that rugby is so much more than the sport they love.