Don’t See A Club You Like? Start your Own!

Rugby is an elusive sport to most midwesterners compared to football and soccer, but according to research from Nielsen, it’s the fastest growing sport in the U.S. And if you ask junior Kiki Fisher, founder of Bradley’s Women’s Rugby Club, it’s one of the best endeavors she’s pursued.

“I honestly can’t say enough about how much I love rugby,” said the biomedical science major. “It has been an incredible way to meet new people and create a community. 

Fisher, who played rugby in high school, had heard of the Peoria Bootleggers, a Midwest D3 division women’s rugby team, but was too intimidated to reach out. Instead, she formed the Bradley club in 2021 with sophomore and fellow biomedical science major Emily Everett. Also joining in on the fun was Fisher’s roommate, sophomore art education (K-12) major Autumn Haberkorn-Mendez.

Neither girl had ever played rugby, but decided it would be fun to learn and try something new. So, when the Bootleggers came calling last year, they were all in.

“Both of our teams are in the building stage, so it made sense to grow together,” said Bootleggers’ team member Janine Schneider. “Right now, there just aren't a lot of women that know about or play rugby in the area. But for those of us who do, not playing is not an option. Our collaboration allows us to have more productive practices, a bigger recruiting reach, and more fun, of course.”

The Bootleggers welcome anyone to join their practices and learn more about the sport. “The majority of women who come out have never played rugby before,” Schneider explained. “We host ‘Rugby 101’ clinics outside of our normal practices to encourage newcomers.” 

The team practices twice a week in West Peoria and plays games both home and away at least twice a month in the spring. Although it’s a contact sport, the rules of the game are intended to mitigate injuries by policing tackling and teaching players how to maintain safe body positions during the game.

As Everett and Haberkorn-Mendez have discovered, rugby is a sport anyone can play. They enjoy the team-building aspect of getting the ball down the field and being active.

Everett said, “The best part of this club has been the stress relief of taking a break from homework to go outside and practice with my friends.” 

Most of the players are adrenaline-junkies who thrive on the contact aspect of the sport—hitting, tackling, driving. But the social aspect of the club is what keeps the players and their fans coming back for more.

“There is no better sport for camaraderie and friendship,” said Fisher. “After each match, the teams get together, no matter if they won or lost, to get to know each other, eat food (usually made and brought by players), and have fun. On the sidelines of games, you hear people cheering for both sides just because they are having a good time.”

Click here for more information on Bradley Women’s Rugby Club.

Check out the schedule for the Peoria Bootleggers on their Facebook page.

Emily Potts

Kiki Fisher