Rugby On The Small Campus: Whittier College Rugby's Story

Whittier College is small liberal arts college (with less than 2,000 students) tucked away in Whittier, California (once a suburb of Los Angles). Now, Whittier is part of the greater Los Angeles area, but the college has continued to maintain its small campus feel.  Whittier College boosts several athletic programs including football (which former President Nixon was once a player/alumni of).  

What you likely don’t know is that Whittier College is now a rugby school and is making strides in just a few short years to secure a foothold on campus. We spoke with Adrian Delgado who is a player as well as Secretary and Treasure for the club. The Poets (the schools nickname) have both challenges as a small school club and advantages which we learned about in our discussion with club.

Below is our interview with Whittier Rugby Football Club’s officer Adrian Delgado.

Rugby Republic (RR): The club was established in 2009. Do you know why the group opted to start a rugby club at Whittier College?

Adrian Delgado (AD):  The club started from a group of Whittier College students who had played together on a local club team and wanted to bring the opportunity to play rugby to campus. After recruiting around campus and linking up with an enthusiastic volunteer coach from New Zealand, they formed the WRFC in 2009.  

RR: You guys are a small school (even the varsity sports are mostly DIII), so does the fact that you are a club on a small campus help with your visibility and recruiting?

AD: Since we are a small school, it is easier to get our club noticed by all sports and other clubs on campus. For recruiting we use social media, email, and the traditional print advertising like "dorm storming". 

RR: Being you have a small campus and smaller sports programs, do you get football players coming out/crossing over to play in their off season?

AD: Yes, throughout the history of our club we have attracted players from all the sports, but mostly football. The past few years we've attracted several more football players due to positive word-of-mouth from past players who played both football and rugby. Many of our football players end up favoring rugby to football, not only because of the game but also because of the “culture" of rugby and the brotherhood it represents.

From a player perspective, our team being compiled of mostly current or former football players; when disappointment in the football program conflicted with expectations from student athletes, rugby became an outlet/replacement for that absence we felt existed with football. It became the new "culture" of many of the football players. 

RR: How did you fair last year, and what are you as a team looking forward to this year?

AD: The 2015 season was quite a success for us since we were mostly made up of first year players who were picking up a rugby ball for the first time. We started off with three returners and by the end of the year we had 20 people on our roster. We played 6 games, going 2-4, but we were in each game until the closing minutes and going against established rugby clubs such as Cal Lutheran, USC, and Long Beach State. 

As for this season, we have a team deep with returners and some new athletes. We want to build on the success we had last year while working to master the basics of rugby and finishing out games to the final whistle.

RR: Do most of your players come with some previous rugby experience before college or are you guys their first exposure?

AD: A majority of our team started playing rugby for the first time this past year in college. Last season we did have a few experienced players who played through high school or abroad in Italy and France.  As mentioned earlier we had a very young team last year.

RR: You play in a good league with some good programs, how can you make your program stand out?

AD: Yes, we are a fairly young program compared to others in our league like Occidental College and LMU (Loyola Marymount University). I think for us to leave a lasting impression on these older/established programs is to give them a competitive game each time we play. In order to gain respect, you have to earn it, and I believe each time we leave the pitch against these programs, we gain it. Once our experience matches the athleticism we possess on the team we will earn the respect of our opponents.

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RR: The college schedules tend to be fairly short. Do you think that helps or hurts your club? Would you want more games? 

AD: Right now we are scheduled for 6 games, which I think is fair since we are a small college with a smaller team, and recruiting pool. Rugby can be a brutal sport and a longer season can be tough especially with a small roster. However, we do believe that game experience is an invaluable learning tool and as the season finishes we normally try to arrange some friendly matches with other college or men's clubs, or compete in off-season sevens tournaments. Last year we created the "Whittier Rugby Sevens” and hosted Biola (University) and Cal Poly-Pomona in a weekend round robin sevens tournament, we hope to make it a yearly tradition and continue to develop it.  

RR: Are there local rugby clubs either youth or senior men’s in your area which you are able to connect with (having them feed your program, and/or your players going on to those after college)?

AD: In the past we have had alumni players join regional clubs like the OC Bucks or Belmont Shore, we have also arranged matches with men's clubs in past seasons. Last year we played a match against Pasadena RFC, which was a great learning experience for our boys. After the game they(Pasadena) told us we were welcome to join their practices and play in the summers after our players graduate. We have a good relationship with the youth rugby program in the neighboring city, Fullerton. We’ve invited some of their outstanding youth players to play in scrimmage matches with us. 

RR: Do you know if most your players continue to play after college?

AD: We had several players continue on to play for men's teams in San Diego, or as mentioned Belmont Shore, but also Portland, Chicago and Pennsylvania. We always encourage our players to find a local club team if they go home for the summer and after they graduate.

RR: What is the most rewarding thing about playing rugby for Whittier College?

AD: We are a small university so we are very close to each other on and off the field. We are a tight knit bunch. Learning a new sport and experiencing a new culture really brought the whole team together and allowed us to gain new players. It’s the bonds.

RR: You started to touch on it a bit, so what are the benefits of playing rugby at a small school?

AD: As a club team at a very small college we are often faced with challenges in terms of recruiting and very limited access to training resources. We face these adversities together off of the field, I think going through this makes us closer and ultimately benefits the way we play together. There are unique experiences you gain together.

RR: Why should people take notice of Whittier College Rugby now? Not just within the rugby world but locally around the community?
AD: Since rugby is starting to gain attention in the United States and throughout the world, I think it is important for people to see what we are accomplishing here at Whittier with such a small school and limited options. We are constantly searching for ways to further improve our club on and off the field. Since our founding, we have continually participated in volunteer events and activities for the Whittier community; we hope to build a good reputation for our club locally and beyond. This season we have a young team with good athletes at every position, and great coaching, we are ready to shock a lot of people and put Whittier College Rugby on the map! 

For more information about Whittier Rugby Club check them out/contact them on social media. FaceBook: Whittier College Rugby, IG: poetrugby , Twitter @wrfcpoets.

If not too late to join WRFC or check them out this season.  The game vs LMU was reschedule so this Saturday will be the start of the season.