KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Rugby is a sport that’s been around for almost 200 years. The popular European game has been steadily growing in the U.S. for decades.
It’s played at different levels with about 90 school programs that offer scholarships, including at Grand Valley State University and Davenport University.
There’s a championship-winning club right here in Kent County.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was once quoted as saying, “Rugby is a hooligan game played by gentlemen.”
The Sparta-Rock Girls Rugby Team isn’t made up of gentlemen. It’s better—it’s made up of smart, talented, and fierce young women.
Rugby has all the physicality of football, the elegance of soccer, the ball passing of basketball, and the intensity of hockey.
And the Sparta-Rock Girls Rugby Team makes it all look effortless.
“They're tougher than the boys. I coach both, so I know. Like girls are a little smarter, the girls can use their physical abilities but also use more technique," said Andrew Dauser, Sparta-Rock Girls Rugby Team coach.
Worldwide rugby is known for the safety of its tackling method. The girls learn to use their arms and shoulders to make contact and protect each other as play is nonstop.
“The girls are all different sizes. Doesn't matter. There’s a position for every size," Dauser said.
One of those athletes is Ashley Cowdrey. She started playing with the boys in middle school.
“I had so many guys that helped me out that I wasn't really that scared," Cowdrey said.
She was awarded a scholarship to play rugby at Davenport University and chosen to participate in a pathway camp for USA Rugby’s national team.
“She makes everybody around her better. She's very unselfish. She's small, but she's very fierce in the tackle. She's fearless," Dauser said.
Another player headed to the pathway camp is coach Dauser’s daughter, Charlotte, who had to be convinced to take up the sport.
“I had to be talked into it a bit. I did not want to play that much. Because I really wanted to just focus on soccer," Charlotte said. "But after a couple of practices and stuff, I like started to love it. So I'm really glad that I did end up playing."
The team comprises mostly teens from Sparta and Rockford schools, but students from all districts are welcome to join.
“We're interested in developing players and putting our time into making that player better," Dauser said.
For Ashley, she says playing rugby has helped her mental health.
“I have a lot of anxiety, stress and then I did have depression for a while. It's gone now, which is good," she said. "But it's like I said, I played soccer, I play basketball, I play volleyball, everything like that. But nothing compares to like the team support that this team and teams previous to my freshman year has given me."
In rugby, you can only pass the ball backward or sideways one way. Players score by running the ball over their opponent's goal line and touching the ball to the ground for a try.
“There's more of like a bigger team aspect. Like, it's less individual, like you're more working towards like one bigger goal," Charlotte Dauser said.
Excellent communication and chemistry have led this team to a state championship title and victory at various tournaments.
The girls prove not only do they give it their all on the field—they’re a family off the field as well.
“I've been playing for a really long time, played on multiple different teams, and every single one felt like a home, like a different home. And then obviously, the tackling comes in place," Cowdrey said.
With that ringing endorsement, determination and skill, these girls are an unstoppable force ready to dominate the game of rugby.
Next up for the team, they’re headed to a tournament in Holland next Saturday, July 16. It’s called Dutch 7’s and will be held at Macatawa Bay Middle School. The kick-off is at 9 a.m.
We wish the Sparta-Rock Girls Rugby Team good luck!
The Sparta-Rock Girls Rugby Team is ranked 12th in the nation.
To learn more contact Coach Andrew Dauser:firstname.lastname@example.org
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