Becoming A Royal

 Ashley Gallegos with the kick for Pasadena RFC (2017) 

Ashley Gallegos with the kick for Pasadena RFC (2017) 

Last season Pasadena established itself as one of the top women’s sides in the Southern California Rugby Football Union (SCRFU), and is poised to make another run for the post season this year. The Rugby Breakdown, just did a great story a week or so ago about the Pasadena RFC (the Royals) that looked at their efforts this season. This story however is not covering the same topic. This story is about the women of Pasadena RFC and a look behind the scenes of this club. The Royals are the oldest women’s club in California.

We were able to connect with Georgia Ringerlberg, the Women’s Executive Council President of the Pasadena Rugby Football Club as she helps us learn more about Pasadena RFC and the Royals! Below is our interview.

The Rugby Republic (RR): So Pasadena RFC was established back in 1971, and the side women’s was initial created in 1973, but then there was no women’s rugby side with Pasadena. What caused the long hiatus? And what sparked the return of a women’s side for Pasadena?
Georgia Ringerlberg (GR): The original women's side, the Eleanors was mostly comprised of spouses of the men's players. Women's rugby was so uncommon then, that it was difficult to keep up a women's team without other teams to play with or against. Everything that is difficult now with regard to recruiting and retention was considerably more difficult then, so eventually, the Eleanors folded. 

Unlike some senior teams/clubs, Pasadena doesn't have a local university that brings athletes into the area that can age into the senior teams from younger rugby programs or other college sports programs. It took a number of years before women's rugby became popular enough in the surrounding area that Pasadena was able to field a team for 15s. The return of the women's side began with a few women who played touch rugby with the men during summer 7s season and were inspired to create their own team. In 2013, Angelica Ramos started the 7s team which was again comprised mostly of spouses of men's players and recent college graduates. That fall, they gathered just enough players for the first official 15s season. The women's team was only able to start up again with the full support of the club's Board of Directors and men's players, specifically Chris Angelica, Tim Cutress, and Alan Johnson, who volunteered as coaches and helped create the women’s team under SCRFU.

RR: Also why did the club opt to go with the name Royals vs keeping the original name Eleanors?
GR: The club has a long history of different names for the teams, including the Majors, Warlords, and Eleanors. We've incorporated those names into the club crest to honor the history of rugby in Pasadena, but when the women's team was reborn, the founders thought it deserved a new name. Mayra Jimenez came up with the Royals moniker, which references the Crown City origins of the club as well as establishes a standard to live up to on and off the field.

RR: Is the women’s club a part of the Pasadena RFC, or its own club but uses the umbrella of Pasadena RFC? We ask as there are some clubs that have a men’s and women’s side or even youth, but they are for the most part totally independent and just share the name and some of the non-profit status?  Are you guys just one of many sides that Pasadena hosts or just using the name?
GR: Good question. We are absolutely and wholeheartedly a part of the greater club that encompasses the men's, junior's, and youth teams. Part of playing with Pasadena Rugby is definitely being part of the club as a whole, which means supporting everyone else in the club. We host fundraisers and events as a whole, try to sync our match schedules so we play home and away matches at the same location, and if we can't, then we support and watch each other play whenever possible.

RR: So since it is all part of Pasadena RFC, how does your club manage so many sides and levels?
GR: We have separate Executive Councils for the senior men and women, and the youth and juniors rely on parents, coaches, and volunteers for their individual administration, but we all operate under the club's Board of Directors. We have a lot of structure in place that keeps things operating smoothly and it's what allows us to really focus on just playing rugby when it comes down to it.  

RR: Your site says that Pasadena has the first women’s club in California, is that something that the club and the girls take pride in and use to set the standard?
GR: It's definitely something that we take pride in, as we try to embrace our club history and use it to promote women's rugby in general. It's something we make a point to remember when we have original Eleanors players on the sidelines at our matches or when someone tells us that they're too inexperienced, old, big, small, what have you to play rugby. We were lucky in that we had a club to support us but for the most part, women's rugby teams start from nothing. So being the first women's team in California, in a sport that is uncommon in the U.S. in general, and mostly played on the East Coast, is definitely something that inspires us.

RR:  So your club is on progressing up finishing near the top of league play again this year. What has changed or been the formula for success these past few years?
GR: Our success is due to a combination of things. We've slowly recruited more and more players with experience playing rugby in high school or college, we've implemented specific structure within our own training that includes quite a bit of fitness and endurance, but mostly we've just grown as a team together. A core group of 15-20 women that have been playing with Pasadena for a few years now have spent enough time together on and off the pitch that they've learned to trust one another and how they play together. That bond has carried us through when we've lost players to injury or relocation and when we've played against skilled teams.

RR: Do you players play/train during the season only, or is rugby something that most your girls do year round (train together in rugby, run touch, or even workout together or  as a group)?
GR: Officially we train twice per week as a team starting in October and through the end of the season. We usually take 2-4 weeks off and then start training twice per week as 7s practice until the early September. So it's almost a year-round activity for a lot of us, though only about half the team (naturally) plays 7s and we don't play competitively. Between those mandatory training sessions however, we usually end up spending most of our time together anyway. Going to the gym together, getting together for runs or workouts at the park, watching rugby matches together, or just hanging out in general. 

RR: How do your recruit? You mentioned that there aren’t really any local universities with rugby sides, but you are increasing players? How have you been able to keep your side engaged?
GR: Recruiting is always a challenge. The club has a Director of Recruiting and a committee that works with him to plan how to best recruit for each age group and gender. Even with all of our planning, it's difficult to implement, at times. We have contacts at most local community colleges and universities but most either don't have rugby teams or their graduates don't stay local. We've been able to graduate some of our Junior's players after they turned 18, but we don't have a full girl's U-18 team so it's not a consistent source of new senior players. Most of us were recruited either by word of mouth, maybe a friend of a friend or at a gym, and the rest find us through social media. The growing popularity of women's rugby and rugby in general has certainly helped. 

The best way we keep players engaged is showing them why rugby is unique and why it's worth it. We try to share with rookies early on what made veterans decide to start playing with Pasadena and what ultimately made them stay. We intentionally cultivate a social scene within our own club to keep people engaged, whether they are able to fully commit to playing full-time or they are still testing the waters. 

RR: Follow up to that. Are most your players new to rugby when they first come out, or are you able to pull players who have had rugby experience before (maybe in college)?
GR: It used to be that only a handful of our players had experience playing rugby before but now it's about 50/50. We have a few that played in high school or overseas, and a few more that played in college, but every year we get new players that have never played before and have no knowledge of how to play but just want to give it a try. 

RR:  What is the goal for the Royals this season? What can we be expecting this season?
GR: Our goal is always to progress. Of course we always set our sights on championships and national titles but in the end we want to improve ourselves as best we can. Before every match we voice our personal goals for the day and our goals for the team and afterward we assess how well we accomplished those goals. It helps keep us focused on the immediate hurdle in front of us while we strive for the end goal, which is of course the DII Championship and Nationals. We expect to go far within our own region and can definitely see ourselves continuing beyond that. We're in the planning stages of fundraisers for nationals so it's always on the horizon for us.

RR:  What is a challenge for a women’s club playing in SoCal? Is it numbers; is it enough clubs to play against, etc.?
GR: Women's rugby in SoCal has definitely struggled a bit with the level of play for the past few years. A cross-competitive schedule between the DI and DII teams has been implemented the past couple of years to allow the teams a greater variety of opponents and elevate the level of play. Numbers are a challenge for all of us. Recruiting adult women to play a time-consuming recreational sport is always going to be difficult. For Pasadena we struggle with finding actual land to play on. The lack of public space that is usable for adult sports pushes our "home" pitch East, to Duarte and it's always a scramble to find an all-weather location when we do get the rare rainstorm.

RR:  Do the Royals have a rival? A game each year that both sides look forward to and what about it makes it either a rivalry or special?
GR: I don't know if other teams would disagree, but we don't have a serious rivalry with any of them. There's always the match immediately in front of us to focus on, so we remind ourselves to respect each of our opponents and acknowledge that anything can happen every time we take the pitch.

RR: You mentioned the social side. How does your club incorporate the social side of rugby into its culture and is that something that attracts or engages new players?
GR: The club makes it a point to create a social scene within our own community. The senior men's and women's teams practice side by side and all socialize after training on Thursdays. On top of the events that are directly related to training and rugby, we try to create a welcome environment and regularly send an open invite to the entire club when social events are held. The women's team plans several events throughout the year to help players bond off the field and incorporate new players into the fold. Most new players don't realize the extent of the social side of rugby until they join the club but it's been cited many times as the reason they've stayed with the club through the years they played and beyond.

 Pasadena RFC assisting with the City of Hope's float for the Rose Parade. 

Pasadena RFC assisting with the City of Hope's float for the Rose Parade. 

RR:  Your club is a non-profit and does some community work. What type of community work do you do and why is that so important?
GR: Our club is a registered 501(c)(3) and it's not something we take lightly. We are lucky to be able to work with Children's Hospital Los Angeles every December for the annual Holidays From The Heart program, and this year we've also been able to participate in Congresswoman Judy Chu's Domestic Violence Awareness Drive, and helped decorate a Rose Parade float for City of Hope. In the past we've been able to volunteer with Union Rescue Mission, Play Rugby USA, and Habitat for Humanity. It's important to us that we volunteer in the community because we ask the community to support us and we fundraise locally, but mostly because we are able. We are a large group of individuals who have enough free time to spend playing rugby and socializing together and it would be selfish to not use our combined resources to give back to the communities we live in. 

 The Royals of Pasadena RFC. 

The Royals of Pasadena RFC. 

RR:  Anything you else you want us to know about the Royals, the club this season, or that we missed?
GR: I'm sure I've already shared more than what you asked for at this point, but if there's one thing that I think people don't realize or misconstrue about the Royals and Pasadena Rugby as a whole is that there's much more going on beneath the surface than what can be seen from outside. Rugby is an underutilized outlet for women and being a part of the Royals has gotten a lot of us through some of the tougher things life has thrown at us.  It's truly a unique experience being part of this team and it's worth every one of the challenges that come along with it, whether they be physical, administrative, or time commitment. 

We want to thank Georgia and the entire Pasadena RFC club for their time, as well as the work they do in the community. A club to model.