Girls rugby growth gets boost from local youth start-up program

PHOTO/PHILLIP BRENTS The recent growth in girls rugby has helped fuel the rising popularity of the game at all gender levels in the United States. Photo by Phillip Brents

Long viewed as a male-dominated sport, rugby is now embraced by all gender levels. In fact, participation in girls and women’s rugby has helped guide the sport’s rise in the United States.

The Chula Vista Elite Athlete Center, in conjunction with USA Rugby, hosted a stop in the Women’s Rugby Super Series in 2019. The event pitted the top five ranked teams in a round-robin format. Besides the United States, teams from New Zealand, England, France and Canada also participated.

The grassroots movement moves closer to home with the introduction of programs in Chula Vista and Spring Valley/Rancho San Diego through Girls Rugby, Inc., a non-profit founded in 2017 with a mission to help girls reach their potential through the sport.

According to statistics compiled by the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls who play sports have higher self-esteem and confidence levels than those who do not play sports.

Girls Rugby, Inc. has helped provide a new platform for the growth of girls rugby where young girls can learn vital skills and core values such as leadership, empowerment, achievement, respect and sportsmanship all while enjoying the experience of playing all-girls, non-contact rugby.

The fledgling program has had a definite impact in terms of growth. At the time of its founding, women only comprised one-fourth of the players, coaches and referees registered through USA Rugby. There were only 1,000 female players in the entire country for Rookie Rugby, a non-contact game and starting point in the nation’s rugby development pathway offered through USA Rugby.

By the end of 2018, the Girls Rugby, Inc. program had grown by 245 percent.

Programs are now set up in Southern California, Washington, North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon/Southwest Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Canada.

“This told us that this is just the program young girls in our communities need,” explained Jessika Marshall, who serves as the program director for San Diego. “One of my favorite statistics coming out of our 2019 annual report showed that 94 percent of parents of girls participating in our program saw an increase in their daughters’ confidence and 77 percent of girls participating in the program felt girls rugby has made them a better leader.

“I would consider our program a success when every girl leaves the field feeling stronger, more confident and more ready to lead the way than when she stepped on it.”

The Chula Vista and Spring Valley/Rancho San Diego programs join others in Ocean Beach and Carmel Valley, and are open to girls in grades 2-8 (first graders are permitted on a case-by-case basis).

Programming is scheduled to start April 5 on a county-wide basis.

Flag rugby substitutes a flag pull for a traditional tackle and is safe for new or experienced players.

All leagues will run for seven weeks and consist of one day of practice (typically one to two hours) and one day for games (typically on weekends for two hours) each week. The final game day will serve as Girls Rugby Family-Daughter Day.

Season cost includes programming for seven weeks by Girls Rugby, Inc. staff, access to qualified coaches and referees for practices and games, Girls Rugby, Inc. membership, liability insurance and an official Girls Rugby, Inc. ball. New players will also receive jerseys (home and away), shorts and socks.

Chula Vista teams will practice at Salt Creek Park, 2710 Otay Lakes Road, on Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m. The first week of practice will include practices on Tuesday, April 6, and Thursday, April 8. All remaining weeks will practice Tuesday only. The first week of league games is scheduled April 17. Family-Daughter Day is scheduled May 22.

Spring Valley/Rancho San Diego teams will practice Tuesday from 5-6 p.m. at Hilton Head County Park, 1605 Hilton Head Road, El Cajon.

Game day locations are at Torrey Highlands Park and Robb Athletic Field.

Women's rugby is part of the programming for USA Rugby. Photo/USA Rugby
GLENDALE, CO – APRIL 26: USA Women’s Eagle vs Barbarians FC at Infinity Park on April 26, 2019 in Glendale, Colorado. (Photo by Seth McConnell)

Girl power
Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, women’s sports have experienced an explosion in participation numbers, including a 545 percent increase at the college level and a 990 percent increase at the high school level.

National Girls and Women in Sports Day was organized in 1987 to acknowledge the accomplishments of female athletes and recognize the influence of sports participation for girls and women. Observances are held annually during the first week in February after President Ronald Reagan first designated National Women in Sports Day on Feb. 4, 1987.

It was originally established as a day to honor the memory of USA Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman for her achievements and work for equality.

Hyman died suddenly of Marfan’s Syndrome in 1986 while competing in a volleyball tournament in Japan.

The Women’s Sports Foundation was founded in 1974 by legendary tennis player Billie Jean King to advance the lives of girls and women through sport and physical activity.

For more information, visit the website at