AURORA — Girls rugby is closer than ever to becoming an official high school sport.
The Colorado Springs Metro League is working on a proposal seeking sanctioned status in Colorado. That proposal will either be submitted at a Legislative Council meeting for consideration this April or in January 2016 with an eye at starting the sport sometime in the 2016-18 two-year cycle.
If everything falls into place — many, many hurdles remain — Colorado would become the first state to sanction rugby as a varsity sport.
"Might as well be the first," said Dave Eichman, the district athletic director at District 11 Schools in Colorado Springs. "That'd be cool. I know as our league, though, that's not why we're doing it. When it comes down to it, its really about providing an opportunity."
"It'd be huge; historic," said Amy Rusert, the head women's rugby coach at Colorado College who works with Varsity Rugby, a leader in the drive for sanctioning.
The current plan is only aiming to add girls rugby as a sanctioned sport, not boys.
"Really what interests us is we recognize the need to get more girls participating," Eichman said. "It seems like when we get into the high schools, we're losing girls for whatever reason. Anything we can do to increase participation in girls sports, we want to do that.
"We also found that we already do have quite a lot of girls participating in girls rugby at the club level."
Five schools indicated they would definitely be interested in adding a girls rugby program. Nine said they would like to add both boys and girls rugby, while 31 indicated they would be interested "if supplied more information."
In order to become sanctioned, first the CSML needs to officially submit the proposal to amend CHSAA bylaws. It would then need majority approval from the Legislative Council.
If approved there, a rugby committee would be formed to iron out the details: season of sport, the number of games played, postseason format, and so on. That committee would submit its report to the Legislative Council with the structure of the sport outlined. If approved, girls rugby could begin play.
The CSML won't submit its proposal, however, until a second survey goes out to the membership seeking commitments from schools to add a program. That will happen early next month.
The sport likely wouldn't be added unless there are at least 12 schools willing to field programs. At that point, even if there are only 12 schools wanting programs, history has shown the Legislative Council to be willing to approve a sport even if their school or area they represent aren't going to offer a program.
"Just because we support it and think it's good and we think there's interest there, doesn't mean everybody has to (offer) it. It can't hurt," Eichman said. "And we said that even within our own league: Just because we're proposing it doesn't necessarily mean we're going to have a team, either. There's still a lot of issues, and other kinds of things around facilities, that we need to deal with. My guess is it would grow."
Rugby Colorado currently oversees a girls rugby club league with 12 teams. The league is expanding to 14 teams next season.
"I imagine we'd have more than (12)," Eichman said.
Currently, the thought is that the girls rugby would be added to the fall season because many of the potential athletes would also likely play soccer and lacrosse, both of which are contested in the spring.
"It might be a good fit to get those kids involved in another sport, and have multisport athletes," Eichman said. "You also might have some rugby kids who then they may become interested in crossing over into lacrosse or soccer, which would help those programs, too."
Though nothing is official, an eight-game schedule during the regular season where teams play once a week has also been kicked around.
If the sport were to begin play in the fall of 2016, the sanctioning proposal would likely need to be submitted to the Legislative Council this April in order to give enough lead time to hammer out the details of the sport, and to allow schools to budget for it. If it were to be submitted to the Legislative Council in January 2016, girls rugby likely wouldn't begin play until the fall of 2017.
CHSAA hasn't added a sport since since 1998-99 with the addition of boys lacrosse. Girls lacrosse was added in 1998, and field hockey joined in 1997.