It was pretty much any other normal night on my way to an interview. After I drove down the wrong streets exactly 3.5 times, I finally arrived at Ruggers, a small rugby-friendly pub on the Southside of Pittsburgh, where I met up with a member of The Pittsburgh Angels, an all-female rugby team.
Ahem…Championship all-female rugby team. *Hair flip*
Led by Head Coach (Dr. Anthony ‘Tony’ Chappie), Pack Coach (Pete Morris), and Captains (Jaime Filipek), and (Melanie Slater), the Angels are formidable, and have a couple of championships under their belt to prove it.
Nicole Beswick, a player that doubles as the club’s match secretary, took a few minutes to sit down and chat about her experiences with the team.
“I’m like the worst person in the world to talk to, Jaime (Team Captain) is much better at this than me,” Beswick jokingly said.
For those that don’t know anything about anything, The Pittsburgh Women’s Rugby Club started wrecking shop in 1976, and has become a tour-de-force of awesome since the early-mid 2000’s.
Beswick, who also goes as Bezz, has been with the team for three years, and cites comradery as one of the best parts of the sport.
“You develop such close friendships. I mean you’re grabbing your teammate, picking her up in the air, grabbing her in between legs *giggles*, you kind of have to get comfortable with one another quickly or it’s not going to be very fun.”
But the sportsmanship isn’t one-sided, as Beswick explained.
“After the games, we have something called a social, where both teams get together, eat, drink, and talk. It’s kind of funny, because we spend all this time beating the crap out of each other, and then we come back and hang out, it’s fun.” *laughs*
It’s an extremely tight-knit group with a storied history of old-world sportsmanship and prestige, but make no mistake, these women are here to compete at the highest level, with zero financial gain and very little fanfare.
“None of us make any money playing rugby. We pay dues, travel costs are all on us, and equipment. We all have other jobs, and do this because we love it. There’s also a big time commitment with this sport, practice and traveling, but it’s all worth it.”
I then asked, well what do you get if you win?
During our chat, Beswick threw out terms like ‘Old Boy’, ‘7’s’, and the oh so popular, ‘scrum’, and ‘scrum helmet’.
I was starting to catch the vibe in this side street British-style pub, which is owned by three Old Boys (retired players). It flashes grit and pride. Not driven by recognition or fame, they revel in one of the last true sports of our time.
“American sports are so weird, I see these basketball and football players making 50-million dollars a year, wearing jewelery, driving fancy cars. That’s not what it’s about for rugby players,” Beswick said.
Bezz also broke down the art of playing an extremely aggressive sport with zero gear.
“After playing rugby, it’s so hard for me to watch football, because those guys are so reckless. They hit with their heads, and all they do is give them more padding, but the way they tackle is completely insane. I mean, when you look at rugby, we’re not wearing any padding, maybe a scrum helmet, but our tackling is so much more controlled. You kind of have to be when you’re not wearing anything.” *smiles*
In between, I mentioned something about concussions, and the response I got from Beswick was brilliant.
“I mean there are concussions” *Pauses, and laughs* “but nowhere near the amount in the NFL. We may have seen around 7 last season. There are injuries, someone blows out a knee, but if you look at all of the pictures, most are without any gear at all.”
The pictures Beswick was referring to are showcased on the wall of the pub, an homage to rugby players past and present.
At 26, the Pitt grad still has some scrum left in the tank, with no plans of hanging up her shorts anytime soon, and speaks to the longevity of the sport.
“There’s a lady that’s like 50 and she’s still very good. So, as long as your body can take it, keep on playing,” Beswick said.
Beswick and the team surely have made their mark on the sport with consecutive USA Rugby Division II National Championship titles. And with hopes to continue their winning ways, they take on a new challenge as they enter the tough MARFU Division I for their 2015 season, which kicks-off in April.
Beswick also mentioned that the team hosts co-ed “touch” games, and open practices, for all that want to give rugby a go.
“Everyone is welcome to come by, we’re always looking for new players. The co-ed games are fun because they’re just touch, and we all have a great time, you should come out,” said Beswick.
Needless to say, short shorts and long socks in hand, half of my battle is won.
And then my inner Jay-Z uttered so faintly, “On to the next scrum”.
For more information on the Angels, or to purchase tickets, visit pghrugby.com