By Nicola Russell ’19 & Makayla Pydych ’19
On March 30 this year, Hobart and William Smith Colleges officially announced the building of a new indoor turf field for the school’s varsity sports teams, funded through Hobart Lacrosse Alumni donations. The development would create an additional winter space for varsity athletes to practice.
However, this indoor turf field is being built on what was once the Odell’s grass fields, historically inhabited by William Smith Club Rugby, Hobart Club Rugby, and William Smith Club Soccer. While this indoor turf will be convenient for the varsity sports and the varsity athletes living in Odell’s Village, it has been a huge obstacle for club rugby in efforts to play and recruit. It was on June 19 (in President McGuire’s June 2018 update under Advancements) that the HWS community was informed of the development and its location via email — nearly four months after the ideological conception of the indoor turf field. This left the leadership of the Hobart and William Smith rugby teams in the dark until the summer that our teams were without a field space, which effectively marked the demise of the rugby teams on campus.
In June, team presidents emailed Tyler Wilke, per the suggestion of the previous team leaders, regarding field space and were told to check back for field reservation the second week of August. When the time came to ask again, the club rugby team leaders were told again to wait until Hobart Football had solidified its practice and home game schedule before we could start scheduling games and practices. It wasn’t until the first week of September that the teams were allowed to practice on the ill-maintained North Cozzens field, riddled with beer cans and dangerous inconsistencies such as holes, mounds, and manholes. While this location was manageable for practices, it was too unsafe for games and was also unable to accommodate the dimensions of a rugby field.
On top of all this, rugby leaders were told by the school that the team’s uprights (an important part of the scoring process in rugby) from the old field were gone and could not be installed elsewhere, even on our new practice field. It later became apparent the old Hobart rugby coach was given the uprights and they were at his home. This was only the beginning of many problems for club rugby in the coming semester.
The next immediate issue faced by the teams was the impossibility of finding a new space to host games and tournaments. Both rugby teams have been forbidden from playing on any fields such as Cozzens or the field behind the first-year parking lot. This is because the school claims the use of cleats and the roughness of the sport will allegedly destroy the field for varsity sports’ use. The teams were also informed that they could not use many of the other fields because they do not have lighting for night games. This claim came as a surprise to rugby leadership, as the school had been having them play on the Odell’s field for years and the field remained in fine condition. The only field option the teams had
was the turf field, Boswell. However, trying to book Boswell came with much difficulty because it is continuously in high demand for varsity and junior varsity teams as well as their club sports. Nonetheless, club rugby continued to communicate with the school, booking field time as far in advance as possible for upcoming rugby games.
How little regard the school’s administration has for its club teams became hugely apparent when the Hobart rugby team’s first home game came around. A mere 30 minutes before their scheduled regular season game on Boswell Field, the team was told it had to leave the field because JV soccer players decided they wanted to have a scrimmage. Despite the rugby team’s booking the space well in advance, the team was still kicked off the field for JV’s spontaneous scrimmage. Hobart was forced to move its game to the practice field, which, again, is too small to accommodate for the dimensions of a proper rugby field and has no uprights — not to mention the dangers of the manholes and uneven ground. It took the Ithaca rugby team over an hour to get to HWS, only to find out that Hobart players were forced from their booked field space and thus forced to forfeit because they could not attain a proper field with the correct equipment.
Additionally, when William Smith Rugby worked on booking the field for a Saturday game, USA Rugby asked on short notice for William Smith to switch the match from Saturday to Sunday due to a mix-up on USA Rugby’s behalf and an overbooking of the available referees. However, again, there was no space on campus to accommodate the shift in schedule and the school was unhelpful in trying to fix our problem. If the team did not want to have to forfeit the match, the only option was then to move the match to Seneca Lake State Park in Geneva. Unfortunately, this meant that the game would have to be played without uprights. Worse still, the school refused to provide EMS for an off-campus game for liability reasons. Rugby cannot officially be played (and shouldn’t be played) without a trained medical professional. The team had a medically trained friend of the team agree to be at the match to provide EMS, but the friend unfortunately canceled for personal reasons the night before the game. The game was thus forced to be officially canceled. The team did get to have a practice with Alfred’s rugby team, who drove an hour and a half only to find out the game had to be canceled, but could not sanction a scrimmage because of the lack of a medical professional. At this point, after this final event, both the Hobart and William Smith club rugby teams gave up completely on expecting the school to help or even care at all.
Rugby is a small club, but we’re proud and love our sport. Rugby provides a safe space for men and women to develop their skills, grow as people, make lasting friendships and have a supportive team cheering them on through their college careers. This fall, over the summer, and at the Involvement Expo, the Hobart team received
over 30 signups of interested players, while the William Smith team received more than 50. Yet with the loss of our field and unwillingness of the school to compensate us or even help, we are without the capabilities to hold on to recruits. Overall, the actions the school has taken in the past eight months have proved how little value they hold in their club teams; the school has made it clear they don’t want to help us. It feels like they hope we will simply disappear. Their actions have affirmed how little the school’s leadership cares about club sports, rugby in particular, and created an overarching sense of perceived disdain from the school towards club rugby — a team of powerful, intelligent individuals supporting their peers and creating a fun, engaged, socially active, and athletic space for students to have a positive HWS experience.
The fall season ends this weekend, with a final William Smith Rugby home game. Maybe next semester will be better, but most likely, with this lack of support from the school, the end of rugby on campus approaches.