TPN x Nazareth Prep | Woodland Hills Girl’s Rugby faces difficulty amid success on the field

Written by high school students at Nazareth Prep, this story is part of a series about Rankin and Braddock.


Courtesy of Woodland Hills Girl's Rugby

The Woodland Hills Girl’s Rugby team, pictured here in blue, lost only three of its games in its first season.

Sherrae Booker’s high school, Woodland Hills, didn’t have a girl’s rugby team before her sophomore year. But she loved rugby and wanted the chance to play. So she and a group of girls approached their principal, Phillip Woods, who told them they could start a team if they found five girls.

Booker and her friends found five girls and finished their first season a 2-4 record in the Wolverines Girl’s Rugby Team’s first season. But despite their first-year success, the players felt like they faced difficulties securing recognition, transportation and funding for the rugby program, a sport that’s only now gaining popularity in the United States.

“Don’t expect anybody to be at the rugby games,” Booker said. “If it’s not basketball, football or cheerleading, nobody will be there.”

While rugby is a relatively new sport to become popular in America, it has a long history. The sport originated in 19th century England and is similar to both soccer and American football. But women’s rugby has a younger, more complex history, with the first recorded college-level women’s game played in 1962.

In a conversation at the Rankin Christian Center a group of students from a program called Youth of the Nation gathered to talk about their experience living in Rankin and its surrounding towns. Many of the rugby players participate in YON, which is a community and service-based program engaging youth ages 13-18 in Rankin, Braddock and Swissvale to support their academic, social and emotional growth.

Some of the girls at the meeting said they wanted to start a girl’s rugby team at Woodland Hills High School in 2018, but feel like the school doesn’t provide resources for them.

“We play under Woodland Hills, and they don’t provide anything,” said sophomore Cheyanne Mair.

Mair said the team piles up in the cars of their coaches, Tony Wilson and Richard Jessell, and carpool to the games because the school doesn’t currently provide transportation. Sometimes, Price said, the team feels like other sports don’t take it seriously.

“Even if it’s not [another team’s] day to practice and we booked the field, we still have to leave,” Brezanell Pierce said.

She said that when it comes to sports in Woodland Hills, the rugby teams are the least supported. Woods did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment.

“Our coaches will buy big boxes of pizza for the girls and boys rugby teams,” Pierce said, citing the fact that the concession stands are closed during their games.

Coach Jessell is a Woodland Hills alum and stepped up to coach the team because of how important the sport was to him as a teenager.

“I didn’t have much growing up, but I did have my rugby team,” he said. “I became a coach to make sure the younger generation could experience what I have.”

Coach Wilson graduated from Wilkinsburg High School, a school just over two miles away from Woodland Hills, and decided to coach the Woodland Hills team because he sees potential for the sport and how it can impact students. Wilson also sees ways in which the team could use more support for equipment, transportation and funding.

“I like giving back. I like being part of the community,” he said. “I feel like it could be a little bit more support on both ways, but [Woodland Hills] does a good job.”

Despite the struggles, the rugby team finished its 2018 season with only three losses, and they hope to continue expanding and improving.

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