“Come as you are, play as you are.” Who wouldn’t love to hear or see that motto when entering a team sport? Ideally, queer folk want to come into a space that creates a culture where there is inclusion and acceptance for one’s identity. The Lexington Black Widows, a rugby team within the Ohio Rugby Union, is creating this inclusion, but through this inclusion networking can be a challenge to bring in more individuals to the sport.
Rugby is a mix between American soccer and football consisting of more kicking than seen in football, but far less than in soccer. The games last 80 minutes consisting of 40-minute halves and 15 players on the field. The rules for both men and women leagues are the same which also include contact ranging from tackling, rucking, and scrumming (8 members of each team bound together and push against the opposing team). There is no padding or hard plastic, so the sport requires everyone’s physicality against one another. Scoring is also done in increment of fives. The Lexington Black Widows, again, are part of the Ohio Rugby union consisting of competitors in Louisville, KY, Nashville, TN, Huntsville, AL, and Cincinnati, OH.
As previously defined, the rules are the same across men and women’s leagues (from a binary perspective); however, the sport has become very inclusive to a variety of identity expressions and sexual orientations. Alessandra Del Brocco (who goes by Al), the coach of the Black Widow’s, states of the Lexington team, “there is a code of conduct that explicitly states we are a team that welcomes all people who wish to play and not exclusive to just women, so this includes non-binary folk as well. Most of the team is queer, a grassroots team which includes a lot of word of mouth to get people out.” Al also gave a shout out to the men’s Lexington Black Stones, though stereotypically more cisgendered, but has celebrated and been very welcoming to those of the LBGTIQA+ community.
The spirit of inclusion within the rugby world here in Lexington seems to be of joyous acceptance, but Al does indicate some changes that need to be made regarding retention. Al has indicated that she, “would go on the record of saying that Lexington has good support of anyone and everyone who plays,” but states changes would like to be seen at the regional level. According to Al, the women’s rugby in Nashville and Cincinnati has decades of strong programs with high turn outs. Lexington, however, has low turnout, possibly due to the COVID pandemic stifling people’s abilities to have communal space for group sport. Sadly, Louisville, though part of the union, did not hold on and does not have a team. University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University also lost their teams during COVID, so there are no college teams known at this time. If there are no college clubs, this inadvertently means no adult clubs.
“College clubs allow people to explore a pathway and get proper introduction to sport and rules to integrate more easily into adult clubs,” Al explains. She states she’s not sure what needs happen to create a resurgence but hopes creating clubs back at the college level will create more turnout. The Black Widow’s president, Olivia Steddom, was on University of Kentucky team and helps with the adult club, so Al sees the success of bridging the gap between college to adult league and hoping this will help continue to grow this section of the union. Simply put, adult teams don’t have the support of marketing or finance as a college team would, so this really drives home the premise that as a grassroots group, they must facilitate all facets of advertising and networking to make the league work.
That is why I felt compelled to write this article; to facilitate in my own way some advertising for this league. I have a couple friends who have and do currently play within the league, and to see the growth of finding themselves through strength, endurance, and confidence is a very awe-inspiring experience to witness. And as Al explains further, I became even more inspired and determined to write this piece.
“Rugby is a safe space and not just in relation to sexuality, also in relation to race, class, etc. There are no barriers in Lexington to be noted and the club does a lot to help those in need. Widows does a lot of public facing work to ensure code of conduct is inclusive; starting conversations with pronouns and checking in on preferences and needs are just a couple examples. Respect to self is also extended to the opposition and referees. Issues are encouraged to be discussed and this is part of positive impacts.”
So, here is your opportunity to look more into this inclusive and safe league. Bring a friend or try it alone. Engaging in an experience of learning something new while being able to feel part of something is truly wonderful. Al summed it up beautifully:
“If you have ever thought about playing then come do it. You don’t have to be athletic; you can definitely try and learn. Lexington has the capacity to see this team grow. Trying something completely different can be fun and welcoming.”
To learn more about the Lexington Black Widows including schedule, sponsorship, or even to donate visit https://www.lexwidowsrugby.com/