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Sept. 16, 2016

 

In the
spring of 2013, the girls’ rugby team at Arsenal Technical High School was
abandoned by its coaching staff and had its season cut short, leaving the group
of young Tech Titans uncertain about the future of the program.

 

Just three short
years later, the team that was once adrift went undefeated during its 2016
regular season and became a staple in the rugby and sports community in
Indiana.Tech Girls Rugby Team

 

In a growing
sport known for its physical nature and fast-paced action, the Tech girls’ rugby
team has flourished over the last few seasons through the tireless dedication
of its coach, players, staff and parental support.

 

Team Captain
Destiny Sims began playing as a freshman and has been part of the team’s major
transition.

 

“It felt
very great to see my team accomplish something that we probably thought wasn’t
possible,” said Sims. “I felt like we worked hard to get to where we
got, and by us working as a team we will be able to make it even
further than what we did last season.”

 

Head Coach
Susan Werbe came on board as the team’s coach after gaining a love and
appreciation for the sport during her years playing in high school and at
Indiana University. Immediately, Werbe could sense the players needed someone
to make a sincere investment in them as a team, and as individuals. 

 

Werbe
quickly embraced the group, teaching them the ins and outs of the sport while
providing a shoulder for each of them to lean on through personal trials. During
Werbe’s first year at the helm, the team won its first playoff game ever. Most
recently, the team made it all the way to the 2016 State Championship, encountering
its first loss of the year.

 

Wayne Eells, executive director
of Rugby Indiana, could not help but be impressed with Tech’s performance.

 

“This is a huge
accomplishment (for the girls). The boys program did well too, making it to Semi-State,”
said Eells. “The passion and dedication of those players, and the many hours
the coaches put in shows with their record this year. … Rugby is a sport that
anyone can play, and anyone can score. Players learn to work as teams, overcome
challenges through communication, learn respect and become adaptable.”

 

Most high
school sports in the state are sanctioned and governed locally by the Indiana High
School Athletic Association (IHSAA). Rugby, on the other hand, is run by a
separate entity, Rugby Indiana. Developing a program in a sport
that is not IHSAA-regulated and still developing in terms of popularity brings
its own unique challenges.

 

Many of the
players and coaches were made to feel as though their participation on the team
was illegitimate or less significant, particularly because it initially
attracts students who may not qualify for IHSAA eligibility. The coaching
staff, with the support of key Tech administrators, has made concerted efforts
to improve their players’ performance off the field, while continuing to reach
new heights on the field to prove the doubters wrong.

 

“I feel very
strongly that if we’re going to continue to compete at this level and continue
to win games, then we need to continue to win off the field as well,” said
Werbe. “The kids have really come a long way since my first year here, making
strides with their academic performance and attendance. We want them to perform
up to IHSAA standards, regardless.”

 

The program
has served to uplift students who may not have had the opportunity to receive mentoring
and productive engagement outside of the classroom, components that IPS
Athletics is stressing districtwide.

 

Fundraising
is also a critical piece of the puzzle in helping the Tech program become successful.

 

With club
sports come costs that can present a challenge for inner-city schools,
preventing most of them from joining the leagues. In fact, Tech’s team is the
only one in its league from an inner-city public school. To overcome the
financial hurdle, Werbe’s team organizes fundraisers throughout the year to
help cover fees and equipment costs that are necessary to participate. These
fundraisers include bucket nights, where the girls go to other school events
and speak to guests about their program to garner interest while collecting
donations. They also host skills camps for young athletes to attend and learn
the fundamentals of the sport.

 

Even though
this can present a lot of extra work, none of the coaches and players hesitate
to go the extra mile because each and every dollar raised has helped to
cultivate and sustain an environment where those 20-plus young ladies can
thrive.

 

The team also works
collectively to break down and defy the stereotypes that are so often
associated with inner-city schools. Most of the competing teams come from
townships and suburban areas, where the perception of urban school districts
may be skewed. Following each rugby match there is a “social’ in which the home
team provides a meal for both participating teams while the players interact
with one another. After each hard-hitting, physically punishing match, the Tech
girls leave all of their ill will on the field and share respect and comradery
with every opponent, serving to build a rugby community throughout the state
that bridges over normal social boundaries.

 

“One of the benefits I get out of playing rugby is being very social
with people from different backgrounds who love the same sport as I do. I enjoy
getting to know people I probably would have never come across if not for
rugby,” said Sims.

 

Heading into the 2017
spring season, Sims is one of Werbe’s eight senior players who were freshman on
the team during her first year as coach — a group she affectionately calls her
“Originals.”

 

Because rugby is one of
our nation’s fastest growing sports — with high school participation nearly
doubling over the last seven years, according to a recent Bloomberg poll — there’s
been an increase in scholarship offerings at the collegiate level.

 

That’s great news for
members of the girls’ rugby team at Tech, many of whom are being looked at by
college programs at multiple division levels, with an opportunity to play at
the next level.

 

Through hard work and
dedication, the players, coaches and staff at Tech have built a program around
an unconventional sport that will allow their students to gain important life
skills, and possibly continue playing the sport that they have grown to love,
while furthering their education and setting themselves up for a successful
future.