Youth Rugby Programs for Girls Working to Bolster Sport’s U.S. Presence | Sports Destination Management

Youth Rugby Programs for Girls Working to Bolster Sport’s U.S. Presence

May 09, 2024 | By: Michael Popke

Amid efforts to make women’s rugby an NCAA championship sport by developing at least 40 programs at colleges and universities around the country, high school girls’ rugby is having a moment.


With a dozen participating club teams and another dozen participating single-school team — most of them from the Midwest but some from as far away as Hawaii and New York — will descend on Cottage Grove, Wis., from May 17-19 for the 25th Annual Girls’ High School Rugby National Tournament at the Wisconsin Rugby Sports Complex. Located near Madison, the facility boasts two grass fields and is becoming a national rugby destination. Last year alone, it hosted the USA Rugby Club 7s Nationals, the Great Midwest Men’s Collegiate Playoffs, the Badgerland Wisconsin High School Boys’ State Tournament and the Girls’ High School National 15s Tournaments.


“After a successful first run-out last spring, we’re pleased to once again provide a platform for young women from across the country to showcase their skills on a national stage,” Brad Dufek, executive director of Madison United Rugby, which oversees the facility, said when the Girls’ High School Rugby National Tournament was announced late last year.


Growth of Girls' RugbyAccording to The Goff Rugby Report, a news website dedicated to high school and college rugby and the United States national teams, “for many years, the girls’ high school championships have been held in two separate tournaments, one for high school clubs and one for school teams. But the event will come together with both brackets. There will be a championship bracket for school teams, and a championship bracket for high school club teams.”


Although no teams from Pennsylvania are slated to compete in the national tournament, state rugby officials are striving to make the sport a priority. In February, Rugby Pennsylvania launched the “Emerging Girls Rugby” initiative, designed to promote and develop girls’ rugby at 25 high schools across Pennsylvania. Once that milestone is achieved, the organization plans to apply for emerging sport status with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.


As noted, Pennsylvania as of late February had nine girls’ rugby teams that were affiliated with high schools, plus about 10 to 15 club-based teams. By comparison, Pennsylvania has 34 high school boys’ teams, with as many as 18 of them associated with a specific school.

“Emerging Girls Rugby” focuses on fostering the growth and development of high school girls’ rugby programs by providing them with the resources, guidance and support necessary to establish successful teams. Rugby Pennsylvania plans to work closely with schools, community partners and interested individuals to ensure the smooth implementation of high school rugby programs.

“If we want to grow the game in the United States, it starts at this level,” Dylan Hamilton, executive director of Rugby Pennsylvania, told, adding that rugby offers an inclusive environment. “Athletes of different shapes and sizes with different skill sets are uniquely used in the game, as opposed to soccer [where] everyone kind of looks the same, or volleyball [where] everyone [is] kind of tall and skinny.”

Hamilton said he hopes the Pennsylvania initiative provides “a blueprint for other states” to follow. “The United States was granted World Cups for rugby in 2031 for men and 2033 for women. In the not-so-distant future, we’re going to be hosting a World Cup, and we hope those national teams are very well represented by Pennsylvania students.”

Nationally, USA Youth & High School Rugby (YHS), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. — and a sanctioned USA Rugby affiliate for players ages 4 to 18 — envisions one million kids playing rugby by the time the World Cups come to the States. Currently, the association counts more than 44,000 members and 47 state youth rugby organizations (SRYOs).

In 2021, YHS and Major League Rugby signed a memo of understanding that identified several “growth initiatives,” including a high school team fund, flag rugby in physical education programs and urban rugby programs.

“Rugby is in a very exciting phase,” proclaimed the latest quarterly newsletter from YHS sent to members in April, which indicated a 39% year-over-year increase in 8- to 14-year-olds playing the game, 28% more coaches and 18% growth in national registrations. 

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