Kaua‘i Women Getting Rugged

Angie Smallidge: ‘I’m young in my head.’ Photos courtesy slotography

Don’t tell Angie Smallidge that women can’t play rough sports like rugby. If you do, she’ll prove you wrong so fast, you wouldn’t know what hit you.

The 76-year-old has played the sport, more widely known for its men’s teams, for nearly four decades.

“I’m young in my head,” she says. “I was working for lawyers and the pressure was rough, so someone asked me to play and I went out and thought it was fun.”

Originally from Phoenix, Ariz., the mother of six claims she’s the oldest women’s rugby player in the U.S.

Now she’s hoping her years of experience will translate into forming rugby teams here on Kaua’i.

“You’ve got to like to run and even get tackled,” she says. “I want to form two teams – at least get two seven-player teams and try to even go to Oahu to play.”

So far, the Kilauea resident has a little more than 10 women who come out to practice at Kapa’a Beach Park near the library. They practice on Mondays for an hour, starting at 6 p.m.

“I think it’s really healthy; it’s good for camaraderie,” Smallidge says. “We call football players wussies because they stop all the time – we don’t really stop. It’s a big running game, and you have to think all the time.”

This group calls itself the “Kaua’i Ruggers,” and Smallidge plays dual roles, as both the coach and a player.

“For the new people, they should just come out and watch, but the first few who came out, they actually got in there with us,” she says.

Christal Hirano at a recent practice

“Whenever I see anybody running, I try to stop them and ask them to play. For people coming out, there’s no expense. I supply the mouth guards. Once we get sponsors, we want to get some shoes and other equipment.”

Practicing for a few months, the women range in age from 15 to 76. Some are attending college on the island, while others, like Wency Luczon, hold down full-time jobs. The 2002 Kapa’a High school graduate didn’t play sports at the prep level, but was heavily involved in the JROTC program.

“When I was growing up I played community sports, and when I got out of high school I missed doing that,” she says. “When you get out of high school there are not many opportunities, so rugby made me get all motivated all over again.”

Luczon, a Garden Isle Disposal worker, saw the women practicing one day at Kapa’a Beach Park and decided to take a closer look.

“Others were watching too,” she says. “It’s a contact sport – it puts football to shame, there’s constant contact, tackling, no timeouts. The only time there’s a break is at the half.”

Smallidge wants others like Luczon to give it a try, especially if they’ve been playing sports all their lives.

“It’s not all that dangerous, it just depends on the people who are playing,” she says. “Just have the mindset that no one is in there to hurt anyone. What I’m trying to engrain in my girls’ minds is that you’re playing your own people.”

For the 5-foot-2-inch Luczon, it’s all about empowering women and giving them something to do.

“It puts women’s names out there – not only men can play,” she says. “Maybe we will be an example for other women who may want to come out and join us.”

If you’d like to join the Kaua’i Ruggers women’s rugby team, head down to Kapa’a Beach Park field Mondays at 6 p.m. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, call Angie Smallidge at 828-0580.