Photo courtesy of Tara Ikenouye '98

Women’s Rugby Still Making History

A female athlete, dressed in a faded green and black jersey, jogs out to the field to take her position. Before slipping in her mouth guard, she calls out to her team: “What do we eat?”
They respond: “Red meat!”
“What do we eat?!”
Louder: “Red meat!”
Again: “What do we eat?!”
“And how do we like it?!”

The ref blows her whistle to signal the kickoff, and the woman’s rugby game begins.

Just remembering such pre-game rituals makes the adrenaline surge in many “ruggers.” Players say that passion for the sport is so pure and distinct that it unites all players, regardless of team or age. Rugby at Oberlin is no exception.

Rhino Ruggers Club President Daviel Shy ’06 and teammate Magdalen Dale ’04 began piecing together the history of the women’s rugby club last year. “We wanted to know who started the team, where the traditions originated, what we had in common with former players, and where alumni are now,” says Shy. “I know I’ll want to hear about the team’s progress long after I retire my jersey.”

Since a formal history of the team does not exist, Shy and Dale searched the College Archives, where former player Tara Ikenouye ’98 had left meeting notes and attendance sheets from the 1995 through 1998 seasons. By leafing through old course catalogs and interviewing former players, the pair learned that a co-ed rugby ExCo course was first taught in 1981, replaced by women-only rugby ExCos in 1989. The sport was chartered as a student organization in 1995.

Like all club sports, the ruggers do not have an official coach and instead welcome instruction from sports enthusiasts. Former Coach Liesl Strickler, for example, a former staff member in the Development office, not only named the team but also taught players the rituals that commonly surround the game.

“Liesl introduced us to the culture of rugby—its traditions, songs, and games,” recalls Ikenouye. “She called us Rhino Ruggers because she said we looked liked rhinos when we had the ball. We would run forward with our heads down.”

Ikenouye says that 1997 and 1998 were banner years for women’s rugby. For the first time, Oberlin had enough players to field two complete teams. “When other teams cancelled at the last minute, we would have an intra-squad scrimmage,” she says. “One time a teammate and I brought clothes from our basement to outfit the team. It was quite a scene watching people trying to play in dresses, funky sweaters, and leftover Drag Ball garb!”

A few years later, however, things looked much different. Numbers fluctuated drastically, and the team dwindled to near extinction, for a time having just four players.

“Thankfully, Magdalen Dale and April Gentile-Miserandino, then sophomores, recovered the team in the fall of 2002 and turned its fate around,” says Shy. “Today, we have 33 players.” As a testament to the team’s determination, the Rhino Ruggers last spring beat Purdue and Ohio State’s B team, both representing Division 1 schools, to place second in the Teapot Dome Rugby Scandal Tournament.

“To me, this is possibly the most important fact of our history,” says Shy. “The future of our team’s existence depends, and has always depended, wholly on those willing to give it their all.”

The Oberlin Women’s Rugby Club will hold its first annual alumni rugby game on Saturday, May 28 (Commencement-Reunion Weekend). Contact Daviel Shy at for details.

Oberlin-in-London Takes a Sabbatical

The Danenberg Oberlin-in-London Program, which has been operating at a financial loss due in part to London property costs and the steep exchange rate, will be suspended this fall—at least temporarily—leading faculty members to work on plans for its revision.

Students, alumni, and faculty members were quick to react when administrators announced late last semester that the College’s fiscal problems would force the program’s cancellation this fall. Working furiously on ways to restructure is Oberlin’s London Program Committee, which is focused on resuming courses as early as fall of 2006.

“The London Committee is meeting non-stop,” says Chair Marc Blecher, professor of politics. The group is considering three possible directions: a restructuring to reduce costs, an expansion to include a summer institute to generate funds, and the formation of a consortium with other colleges. “We are pursuing all three, although the consortium may take longer to plan,” Blecher says.

London author Tracy Chevalier ’84, who took part in an earlier, more scaled-down version of the current program, wrote that she was unlikely “to have begun writing historical novels set in Europe without the exposure I had at that early stage in my life to a different culture.” Dozens of alumni and students expressed a similar passion, often pointing to their semester abroad as life-shaping and intellectually stimulating.

Passion, however, doesn’t pay the bills. College Provost Clayton Koppes says the London program imposes heavy out-of-pocket costs for the College, which faces a $2.5 million budget deficit in 2005-06.

“Oberlin is not alone in this dilemma,” he says. “Other colleges are also grappling with the escalating costs of operating London programs. Its infrastructure and associated expenses make it unusually expensive for an off-campus study experience.”

Among the problems, Koppes says, is the site itself, which is leased by Oberlin and does not conform to Great Britain’s new disability laws. A two-year search for affordable new quarters has been unsuccessful. In addition, he says, the current exchange rate—almost two British pounds to the dollar—ensures that costs will only rise next year.

The London program had its start in the 1970s, when one professor from Oberlin would accompany students to London for a semester of study and cultural immersion each year. In 1983, the program—and its costs—expanded significantly. Since then, two Oberlin professors from different academic areas have lived with and taught 20 to 25 students each semester. The College employs two London-based staff members to oversee operations.

Regardless of the program’s near future, Koppes is adamant in stating that no student will be denied an opportunity to study in Great Britain. “There are many other foreign-study programs as well as British universities that welcome American students,” he says. “Oberlin remains interested in new opportunities for cost-effective consortial programs for study abroad and for exchanges with foreign universities.”

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