Downie ’18 discusses rugby culture and how she is an ‘anomaly’ in the sport

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I had the chance to sit down with Laurel Downie ’18 and learn about her lifetime of rugby experience, the players who typically come out to play in college and the ‘bond’ that all rugby players share. She has been on the Gettysburg College Women’s Club Rugby team for four years.


Andy Milone: Tell me about your history with rugby — when you started and how you got into the sport in college.

Laurel Downie: When I was growing up, my dad started playing in grad. school — right before I even existed. But when I was little, he played for a local team called the Albany Knicks Old-Boys league. My sister and I would go with him to tournaments and games. We were very lucky to be exposed pretty early to the sport — because it just wasn’t that common. For a large portion of my life, that was my social circle — me going to these rugby games and hanging out with the children of the other dads who are playing in this league and a lot of the other children (who were older) ended up baby sitting me and my sister — things like that. And, it was such a big part of my childhood and continued to be something that I looked back on really fondly as I grew up. And, then the same guys, who grew up with my dad playing rugby, founded a rec league, similar to your classic soccer league, but for rugby in the capital region of New York where I’m from. I started playing when I was a freshman in high school and have been playing pretty much ever since, so when I was looking at schools, I definitely knew that rugby was something that I wanted to participate in, but I’m an anomaly in that case because most people have never even played the sport, or even watched it. When we recruit people, we stress that you don’t need to have any experience because most people don’t.

AM: What’s the club sport dynamic? What would you say is the difference between the club level and the Division III level — and even the intramural level?

LD: Looking at it first from a comparison between varsity level (Division III) sports versus club level sports — club level sports are easier to participate in — and there is little more flexibility with the time commitment. Our team is really committed, and we ask that you should be able to at least commit yourself to at least three out of the four practices because you have to learn the game in order to play. But the benefit is the competitive environment where you are expected to be competitive and be into the sport — unlike intramurals in some cases. It has more of a team aspect. You might have intramural teams that practice together all the time, but you also have teams where whoever can come — will come. People are more detached. I found that club sports are a good medium for me because I’m way too competitive for intramurals and also wouldn’t have any interest in playing a varsity level sport on campus because I know it’s a huge time commitment.

AM: What type of students come out to play club rugby? Like you said, it’s not something many pick up in high school.

LD: A profile is tough to give — during my years, there are many different types of people that come out and play rugby. There is this expectation that if you play rugby, you are this really scary, unapproachable person, but in the past, we have had people, who are greeks, non-greeks and students who are involved in a lot of different ways on campus. Half of our rookie class (first-years) are STEM scholars. Then, we have students, who are more interested in social justice, humanities and more.

AM: Do a lot of the newcomers play sports in high school?

LD: A lot of them did. We have quite a few soccer players and a lot of them are involved in athletics, but then they want to try something new.

AM: Do you have a favorite memory from playing club rugby from your last four years of playing in college?

LD: There are so many. One of my all-time favorite memories was the first time we traveled to an away game to play Juniata College — who we have done co-ops and fundraising with

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— and at the end of this particular game, we won by a very slim margin. Then, the Juniata team invites us to hang out for a bit, order some pizza and it was just such a remarkable moment — because it was people, who were so bonded together by this sport, due to it being [such an uncommon sport]. My dad always told me that whenever you meet somebody that plays rugby, it’s this instant connection because it is so uncommon and so rare. It’s community that you enter when you start to play and eventually, something that you really value. In the moment, that was one of those times where it was ‘yeah, we played each other in a competitive game, but we can still come together and appreciate one another’s company because we enjoy the sport so much.’

Quick facts about club rugby

  • Captains are Hanna Panreck ’19 ( and Jessica Rowland (
  • Practices are Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 4:30 – 5:30 pm (or 6 p.m.)
  • Saturdays are Rugby game-days — most weekends.
  • Games are 80 minutes long.
  • Teams are structured as 15 players per team per side during the fall season.
  • Teams are 7 players per team per side during the spring season.
  • 4-6 games are typically played throughout a season — and a tournament usually concludes the season.
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