SEBASTIAN – Sebastian River High School Girls Rugby will travel to Sandy, Utah, Friday to play in the U19 Girls USA Rugby National Championships on May 21 and 22. The Sharks are one of eight high school teams in the country that will compete for the title.
The team held a fundraiser at Pig and Whistle in Sebastian Sunday, as they are trying to raise the $20,000 they need for travel expenses before the championship game this week.
With a record of 9-0, Sebastian River won its first six games to win the state title, and won three more games in Sanford against out of state teams for the right to represent the South in Utah.
Coach Allan Dobson will be taking 22 of the current 34 squad members to the competition – 15 starters and 7 reserves.
“The fundraisers we’re holding are specific to go to the USA Rugby National Tournament this Friday,” Dobson said. “This is unbelievably exciting. No other team in the state of Florida has ever been to Nationals before. We’re representing the South, but more importantly, we’re representing Sebastian River High School.”
Rugby is a relatively new sport to Florida, and has only been Sebastian River for three years. Coach Allan Dobson brought his passion and knowledge for the game over from Scottland a few years back, and got athletic director Michael Stutzke to agree to make girls rugby a varsity sport.
Dobson grew up playing rugby, and played all the way through to the University of Edinburgh. As a coach at his alma mater, Dobson coached the girls team to the British University Sports Association Finals – which is their equivalent to the NCAA Final Four.
“Six months ago I had a number of girls who couldn’t even spell the word rugby – they didn’t even know what it was,” Dobson said. “They decided to come out and try something (new). We’ve had athletes over the past three years who’ve had absolutely no sporting prowess come out. Part of the key to the game is it doesn’t matter what size you are – you don’t have to fit a pre-determined size and shape monicker. There is a position for everybody.”
Dobson gives a great deal of credit to the parents and the community.
“Martin at the Pig and Whistle has been so very good to us,” he said, for supporting the rugby team. Local restaurants like Chili’s in Vero Beach and the Pig and Whistle in Sebastian have each held fundraisers in the past week for the team.
“I stepped in after the second meeting when my daughter (Leila) volunteered me to be president,” Sebastain River Girls Rugby Booster President Esther Lawrence said. “The support from the parents is astounding – every parent is stepping forward. It surprised me to see the support these parents are willing to give the girls.”
Proud parent Roberta Rose agreed.
“My daughter is one of three seniors who have played all three seasons,” Rose said. “The team was, and is still the first girls varsity rugby program in the nation. All the other teams they play are club teams. The coaching staff have brought this team so far in just three years. Three years ago, these girls had never seen a rugby ball and didn’t know what to do with it. Now they are going to Nationals.”
As much as Dobson loves the game of rugby, he knows that the life lessons that go along with it means so much more.
“I think part of the key in the enjoyment the girls have is they have a sisterhood,” Dobson said. “I tell them before they start playing that they are about to join the biggest sorority in the world. Everywhere they travel, they can go there and say they are a rugby player. That’s something that you can’t do world-wide with too many other sports, but you can with rugby.”
“Teaching them how to play rugby has been a challenge, but it has been fun,” Dobson added. “Who knew coaching 32 high school girls would have been a stress reliever?”