Photo caption: St. Olaf Men’s Rugby Team in a match against Carleton Men’s Rugby Team on Oct. 7. Photo Courtesy of Atle Wammer
The COVID-19 pandemic nearly ended many co-curricular organizations at St. Olaf. Extended pauses in participation made some organizations cease entirely as knowledge of the organization and its workings faded out as leadership and members graduated. For many club sports, the pandemic compounded existing problems, making it difficult to survive. Of those that did survive, a revamp was needed. The work of Men’s Rugby team Captain Atle Wammer ’24 to revamp the Men’s Rugby team shows what reviving an Intramural sports team, or a student organization, looks like.
The St. Olaf Men’s Rugby team, a club team, struggled to maintain membership and train new leadership due to the pandemic. Few high schools in the United States have rugby teams, meaning that most American players learn of the sport during their college years, through a peer or family member who plays, or by contact with the sport abroad.
“The best thing about rugby is the community,” said Wammer. “A friend of mine introduced me, and I just kept going.” After joining rugby, he became more involved with the rugby scene in his hometown of Portland, Ore., then at St. Olaf and abroad. The ability to join a team with people who just wanted to play a sport together appealed to Wammer.
“What I love about rugby is that anyone can play,” Wammer said. “I can look at a person of any body size, shape, or height, and say yup, there’s a place for you on the team.” Teams have eight players for each play, with players numbered for their position. Each position requires different skills, from more defensive to offensive, fast, or strong. Anyone being able to play rugby helps develop a community with a shared goal rather than a shared background.
It can be difficult to learn how to lead a club sports team without assistance from previous leadership. Leading a club sports team requires knowledge of the St. Olaf Office of Student Activities (OSA) and working closely with the Assistant Director of Recreation. To run a club, the OSA provides information on funding, advertising, and running an organization. The Assistant Director of Recreation helps club team officers with safety protocols, space reservation, and accessing equipment.
The Men’s Rugby team has struggled to maintain membership and train new leaders while the Women’s Rugby team continues to have a strong presence in St. Olaf club sports. Wammer attributes this to the reputation of male rugby players as interested less in the sport than in the drinking culture that often accompanies playing a match.
“Community doesn’t need to mean drinking or anything unhealthy. I am trying to build a team culture where we value the best parts of a rugby community,” Wammer said. “I want the team to be a community where we come together to play a sport and get to know each other without the problematic aspects that rugby teams are known for.”
By rebuilding the reputation of and community within the Men’s Rugby team, Wammer hopes to increase the team’s presence on campus. The men’s team held a fundraiser on Nov. 2 selling cookies that came with a St. Olaf Men’s Rugby team sticker. Wammer hopes to increase collaboration between the Men’s and Women’s rugby teams. The team has several new players, with and without previous experience, this year. By spreading the word about the team, Wammer hopes people interested in the sport will consider joining to learn how to play as well as play in matches against local colleges and recreational teams.
As a senior and captain of the team, Wammer hopes to leave the team in a better position than when he joined. After several years of leadership changes and not much carry-over of knowledge on how the club team operated before the pandemic, rebuilding the team takes lots of individual motivation and a willingness to collaborate.