By Shelby Taylor
On most Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays on Portland Avenue, a group of women rugby players leave everything on the field. Some 25 women strong, the Tacoma Sirens are strong even as society genders them to be delicate, practicing a “real man’s sport”—tackling and all—and finding a community that embraces the fearlessly female.
The Sirens, the women’s side of the Tacoma Rugby Club, date back to 2010, when now head coach Meg DeGravelles made the move from Louisiana to the City of Destiny. Looking to continue playing the full-contact sport, Meg soon found that Tacoma did not have a women’s club team. Even as she practiced with the Tacoma Nomad Rugby Club, an all adult men team that has been around since 1974, it wasn’t long until the Nomads and Meg identified the need for an adult women’s team, and the Sirens were born.
From one woman to over 25, the Sirens have seen their numbers explode. Assistant Coach Leslie Rains attributes this mostly to “word of mouth” and that, “once you play rugby, you want your friends to play rugby, too.” Varied in age (a few players are in their mid 40s), experience (most come to the sport not knowing anything about rugby), and shape and size, it’s the camaraderie that unites this Division II team. “We all come together to work toward a similar goal,” Leslie said.
Saturday is rugby day. The day is jam-packed with Sirens, Nomads, and University of Puget Sound team games, making for a fantastic display of the sport. Members of each park themselves along the sidelines when not at play, cheering on their fellow club team, and offering shouts of “take her down!” and “good crosses. You’re a beast out there!”
For the spectator not so familiar with the nuances of the free-flowing game, it’s somewhat easy to get the basics down from simply watching a match. Two teams are seen lined up against each other, and the oblong shaped ball is propelled down the field, passed laterally and backwards via hand tossing and mini kicks. Meanwhile, the opponent barrels along, attempting to stop the forward progression and take the glory for themselves. Think a mixture of soccer and football in terms of how points are scored—you cross a line, receive five points for the “try,” and there’s a conversion kick for two additional points.
In terms of specific rules, each team has 15 players on the field at one time. During a game in late February it was 15 Tacoma Sirens in navy and yellow pitted against red and white Portland Pigs. Neither the Sirens nor the Pigs were allowed to pass the ball forward, as is the way of rugby. Also, whenever a tackle occurs—there were many in this spring season opener—and a player touches the ground, she must release the ball.
The scrum is perhaps the most unique aspect of rugby. To the untrained bystander, it appears as a big mass of bodies pushing against each other, and one can just barely discern the ball between the many cleats. The scrum, short for scrummage, is a method of restarting play and is how one gains possession of the ball.
The Way of Life
After home games, the Sirens break bread, or rather dollar tacos, with their opponents at The New Frontier Lounge in downtown Tacoma. Having a mutual love of the game seems to transcend any rivalry felt on the field, and in the words of Joe Theismann, “Rugby is great. The players don’t wear helmets or padding, they just beat the living daylights out of each other and then go for a beer. I love that.”
If intimated by the fact that rugby is a contact sport, Leslie assures that it’s only soft tackling, and there’s a technique which is taught to prevent injuries. Concerned that you know nothing of rugby but still want to give it a whirl? The Tacoma Sirens wholeheartedly recommend just jumping in; they’ll teach you the rest.
“The best part is you don’t have to be good. It’s a family,” Leslie continued.
Her sentiment is shared by each and every one of the close-knit Sirens, who stay close even with teammates who’ve left the sport. Their bond is a lifelong one, and theirs is a team of strength, empowerment, and acceptance.
Want to be part of the team? Show up to a few Tuesday and Thursday practices—from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 3513 Portland Ave—with mouthguard and cleats, and you’re good to go. As Leslie sums up, women’s “Rugby is a great opportunity; people just don’t know about it.”