During the spring and summer of 2021, Howard University’s Takunda Rusike, a sophomore nursing major from Baltimore, Maryland, took it upon herself to bring women’s rugby to her school’s community.
The first USA international rugby match was played against Australia in 1912. In the 1920 Olympics, team USA won the gold medal against France, but the sport did not gain much popularity even after the widespread news of the win. Since the USA’s participation in the first Rugby World Cup of 1987, the sport has been steadily growing in numbers. Now, there are over 900 college teams in the country.
The rugby community has grown significantly over the years, and many initiatives have been taken to expose more people to the game.
“I had to prove why the sport was worthy of being here,” Rusike said.
Rusike played for Old Glory, a D.C. major league rugby team, and she utilized her connection to the organization for sponsorship. Old Glory is Howard’s Rugby Club’s main sponsor along with the Robertson and Sullivan Rugby Foundation. This foundation has a three year program, the HBCU Rugby Initiative, that is dedicated to creating four men’s and four women’s teams in D.C. and surrounding areas. They started with Howard’s two teams being their focus, and in following years, will create teams at Morgan State University, Bowie State University and the University of the District of Columbia.
Howard alumna Carille Guthrie, president of Robertson and Sullivan Rugby Foundation, worked with Rusike to initiate bringing Howard’s rugby club to life. While the foundation is a financial sponsor to Howard’s rugby club, the team took it upon themselves to create fundraising opportunities.
The coach of the women’s club at Howard is Katherine Aversono, nicknamed by the team as Coach Kat. When Guthrie and Rusike were searching for a suitable coach, Coach Kat’s coaching style, values and character resonated with them.
“We felt as if in terms of growing a program from nothing into something, Coach Kat was the person to do it,” Rusike said.
Coach Kat has a team of players with a variety of experience and skill level. Almost half of the women’s club are novices and had never touched a rugby ball. She utilized the online networking within the Howard community to spread the word of the new club. They created an Instagram page, @howardwomensrugby, for the women’s club and promoted an invitation to join in Howard GroupMe chats.
“The student body reaction has been very positive; the people who needed to get on board were those in the administration,” Rusike said.
Bringing rugby to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) has been a recent initiative. Florida A&M University created the first HBCU rugby team, but it came to an end due to loss of student interest. Morehouse College created the first HBCU all male rugby club and Prairie View A&M University has a men’s and women’s rugby club.
Howard players such as Nia Moten, a junior psychology major, have really enjoyed their time with the club.
The team members have created a very strong bond, which helps them perform on the field.
“At that point, we’re all protecting each other and looking out for each other, which creates this bond that translates off of the field as well,” Morten said.
Howard Rugby Club’s priority is outreach. Students who are interested in joining the club are encouraged to direct themselves to the club’s website to find information on practices, season games, contacts and donations.
“Rugby is for everybody,” Rusike said.
As the sport gains more attention and grows in popularity, there is starting to be more of an effort to bring the sport to HBCUs.