Women coach men’s rugby teams – Julie McCoy, Tiff Faaee, AnneMarie Farrell, Koma Gandy Fischbein quickly come to mind – but that occurrence is far from common. T Fletcher joined those ranks in 2019, filling the head coach vacancy at American International College (AIC) in Springfield, Mass. The team and staff celebrated their first spring season together with a second-place finish at the USA Rugby DIA College 7s National Championship.
“Though I have co-coached men before, it was a competitive club level,” Fletcher explained. “So Neil Pietila [Raleigh, USA South], one of my previous elite coaches, and Rosalind Chou [Life University, Atlanta], a long-time rugby mentor and great friend, continue to offer me sound advice and help me grow. I’m fortunate to have them to constantly push me, keep me grounded, and offer their perspectives.”
Despite the second coaching change of the season, the Yellow Jackets made 7s nationals a goal, and got down to work.
“I was surprised at how quickly I was able to gain the team’s respect,” Fletcher reflected on the spring season. “There’s definitely something to be said about sticking to your values, and I think the young men quickly saw me for who I am.”
AIC qualified for the DIA national 7s championship, and there, a USA Rugby rep informed Fletcher that she was making history as the first female coach of a men’s team competing at the highest collegiate level.
“While this is definitely something that I’m proud of, I don’t want it to take away from the team’s accomplishments in any way,” Fletcher noted. “There was so much that went into what we accomplished, so many uphill battles and challenges that our team overcame, and I don’t want the fact that I am a woman to overshadow their efforts and dedication in any way.”
In Tucson, AIC finished runner-up to Lindenwood University at the DIA 7s national championship, and Fletcher kept the spotlight shining on the team itself. With that said, the new New Englander understands the importance of the potential impact outside of AIC.
“[I]f this publicity helps inspire other females, helps [hashtag] ‘grow the game,’ and puts AIC on the map, I’ll take it,” Fletcher enthused. “I fell in love with the sport and how it made me feel. I’m humbled to have the opportunity to pass along my passion to the next generation.
“Do it,” the coach advised other women considering a men’s team coaching position “It’s cliché, but be yourself, let your skills speak for themselves, and use your passion to grow the game that you love. … Not to say it’s that simple and there’s not hard work that goes into it, but there’s also the old saying, ‘Love what you do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’ I will always tell people to go out of their comfort zones and do something that challenges them and helps them grow.”
Fletcher is an active player and later this month represent the USA South – an all-star program with which she’s been competing since 2006 – at the Rugby Americas North 10s. For the fall 15s season, Fletcher is aligning with Beantown and hopes to contribute to the Women’s Premier League team.