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Armed Forces Championship: The Pathway Begins

  • 26 Jun 2019
  • 124 Views

Air Force in Las Vegas / Photo: Jackie Finlan

The realization of the women’s Armed Forces Championship has been 30 years in the making, but this milestone will do more than simply add an event to the calendar. Lisa Rosen, an Army veteran and Air Force coach, is one of the core people who has been closely involved with the long process and sees the farther-reaching implications.

“More than anything, this effort is about creating a pathway [to WCAP and the U.S. national teams] for talented players who don’t have one today,” Rosen said. “It’s about all the pieces coming together.”

Military rugby in the U.S. dates back to 1919 (read full history) and it received a nice boost when USA Rugby created a Combined Services Committee in 1980. The committee oversaw the rugby efforts within all of the military branches, and received funding from USA Rugby member dues. Rosen remembers filling out CIPP registration forms and checking that $5 donation box in support of military rugby, and yet the women didn’t have a program of their own. In 1995, a Combined Services team, which was mostly U.S. Air Force Academy players, played the Texas Selects as the first official outing. Momentum stalled after a couple of disappointing years of inactivity, but diligent proponents like Vicki Hudson, CJ Jones, Krista McFarren, Christie Nixon and Beth Ward rejuvenated the program.

RELATED: Women’s military rugby history

The women’s Combined Services participated in official USA Rugby events, but it was vulnerable as an unofficial military institution. Players not only had to contend with all the barriers that limit their civilian counterparts, but also had to negotiate their military obligations. Becoming a U.S. Armed Forces Sport, however, would alleviate many of those complications.

A few years ago, Air Force stepped out and built out its own branch team, before there was word of an Armed Forces Championship. Army and Coast Guard followed a year later.

“Every branch does things differently, so that is one of the interesting challenges,” Rosen said of coordinating branch teams. “Each branch has an Armed Forces sports officer and they look at the aggregate sports schedule and the budget, and decide the events. And that’s based on interest, which is another tough thing. It’s not just ‘raise your hand if you want to play rugby.’”

There’s an official application and process, where people must get signatures and approved time off. Those numbers from all of the branches are tracked, and that’s when interest is determined.

RELATED: Kaitlyn Kelly on Army’s Armed Forces Championship team

“It took us several years of filing applications to get a critical mass and the blessing to move forward,” Rosen said of making women’s rugby an Armed Forces Sport. “But you have to continually build interest for this to keep going. … For me it’s about creating something sustainable. If the Marines or Navy don’t have the numbers one year, then it all collapses. So we all banded together – sponsored social media to drive applications; all the coaches and OICs have each other’s contact info in case they run into someone who needs to go through.”

Rosen pointed to former USA Women’s 7s staffer and WCAP member Andy Locke as providing the final push for the women’s Armed Forces Sport status. After a couple of failed attempts to host the Armed Forces Championship, the first official event will occur in July at the Cape Fear 7s. All five branches will compete at the flagship event, and now that it’s an official Armed Forces Sport with a championship, there are more opportunities.

To start, the WCAP players will have the championship officially added to their schedules.

“There’s an entire population of military rugby players who don’t have a pathway into WCAP,” Rosen said. “They don’t have the same flexibility [as civilians] to join a WPL club or travel to every camp [to be identified]. But now, they can play for their branch team, and if they’re selected, they compete at the Armed Forces Championship. From that they get selected to the All-Armed Forces team and compete at the [National Development Invitational Tournament]. From there, any military player that projects can put their hand up for WCAP inclusion.”

Rosen indicated that three out of five branch teams will feature WCAP players in Cape Fear.

“We never had access to the top players because Combined Services wasn’t official,” Rosen said. “The quality of play will be higher this year and I expect it to be a very competitive tournament.”

Rosen indicated that the organizers will no doubt encounter some “first time” obstacles, that everyone is in positive spirits and determined to inaugurate an event with a long future. Stay tuned for post-event coverage.

AIR FORCE CAMP ROSTER

Adekunbi Adewunmi

Indigo Blakely

Sara Cook

Eve Dorshorst

Devin Doyle

Katie Dyke

Amy George

Noelle Heiser

Gianna Khoudary

Haley Ladd

Katie Mueller

Melissa Thompson

Jessica Tharp

Tanya Siford

Adrienne Yoder

OIC Nikki Jansen

Coaches Emily Record Lisa Rosen

S&C Sharon Moskowitz

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