On game day, members of the Georgetown men’s club rugby team pile into teammate JP Mancini’s (COL ’22) large Chevy Suburban for a road trip to their off-campus match. While other teams receive transportation from the university, the rugby guys don’t have that option. Despite their position at the top of the Division II Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference (MARC) and a bid to the Collegiate Rugby Championship in New Orleans next month, they lack resources.
Now captain emeritus, Ali Taha Brown (SFS ’22) has been a part of the Georgetown men’s club rugby team since his first year. But despite the program’s 55-year history, he has long noticed a lack of institutional support for the team.
Now, Taha Brown feels it is time to put the team on the university’s radar.
In August, Taha Brown contacted the Film and Media Studies newsletter to find someone interested in documenting the men’s club rugby team’s quest for a national championship. Aiyana Langa (COL ’22) answered the call. Now, the documentary is set for release next month.
“This is kind of my opportunity to have a team who is actually excited for me to do something like this,” Langa said. Taha Brown and his teammates hope both the documentary and their performance in Louisiana next month will make all the tribulations they’ve endured worth it.
This April, the Hoyas trounced all five of their opponents at the MARC 7’s Series in New Jersey. Not only did they continue their 18-game win streak—they also captured the tournament title against rugby powerhouses Villanova and Drexel. But the hardest part was actually getting to New Jersey to play.
Georgetown is known for its support of varsity sports; the school provides transportation for athletes and free buses for fans to make the trek to Capital One Arena for men’s basketball, or even down to Cary, N.C. for the men’s soccer team in the Division I NCAA Semifinals. Club sports like rugby, however, are not given the same resources.
The team relies primarily on Mancini for transportation, because they either aren’t provided with adequate funding for enough vans to fit the entire team or aren’t given van access in the first place. For the MARC Tournament this past weekend, Mancini drove his teammates three hours, started all five games, and then drove everyone back—all in one day.
“Legit every match we had, there was a crisis about it not happening, so the fact we even played a full season is impressive, and then just doing well is the cherry on the top,” Taha Brown said.
In the fall semester, the team traveled significantly because club sports were not allowed to host games on Cooper Field. On top of that, Georgetown did not help the team find alternative facilities to host, leaving Taha Brown to handle logistics. The teammates lined makeshift pitches with paint themselves.
The team holds 90-minute practice sessions twice a week, led by volunteer head coach Arno Van Der Spek. They run drills resembling a professional rugby team and have even sent Georgetown players to Old Glory D.C., the local professional rugby league. Despite their success, school support has not materialized.
“We see this as something that could be an opportunity for the school and they see it as a burden and they treat us like a burden,” incoming captain Mark Kearney (SFS ’23) said.
Although club sports are now allowed to host games on Cooper Field, the rugby team was denied field space because the times they requested interfered with varsity sports’ pre-season camps. Thus, the rugby team hasn’t played a home game in over two years, and student attendance is low at their off-campus matches.
“We don’t really have that many people who come out and watch,” Kearney said. “If this is something that we want to take up to a new level, then getting school and student engagement is pretty important.”
The club plays two forms of rugby with 15 players on the field in the fall and seven in the spring. When the team made the quarterfinals of the national 15s tournament last November, Taha Brown took it upon himself to book hotels as close to the pitch as possible. But when the university found out, they asked Taha Brown to cancel his reservations and book it through their travel agents instead.
The team was delighted to finally get some university assistance, but soon discovered the hotels the travel agents booked were over an hour away from the pitch, meaning the team had to get up at six in the morning. A well-intentioned but poorly managed Georgetown intervention added stress to the team that now had to wake up before dawn.
Now, Taha Brown will likely have to spend most of his final semester planning the team’s trip to New Orleans for the national championship. “It’s a constant theme: We get super frustrated with Georgetown’s administration and bureaucracy,” Taha Brown said. “We feel that what happens on the men’s rugby team is what I would want to promote the hell out of.”
Luckily, Langa has commemorated the team’s numerous triumphs and tribulations this year through film. Langa has been embedded in the team all season, even making the November trek to Pennsylvania to film the team’s eventual fall in the quarterfinals. “This has been easily one of the highlights—probably the highlight of my senior year—meeting this group of random dudes and being pretty good friends with them,” Langa said. “I feel like the main goal is to get the university to give them more money and to support them.”
With Langa’s documentary debuting in early May at the Rugby Ball, both Taha Brown and Kearney hope it changes the school’s treatment of club sports. “Even though we are a club sport, we are the Georgetown Rugby team,” Taha Brown said.
Taha Brown is proud to be so invested in the Rugby team, but hopes that in the future it can pose less of a burden on student leaders. “We’ve had such a great season this season, but what we have been trying to do off the field is trying to make that sustainable,” he said. “We care about Georgetown, we sacrifice our bodies for Georgetown. It’s just tough to square that with Georgetown not helping us and obstructing us.”
Missing a great opportunity here. Time for Georgetown to show some vision, especially with the Rugby World Cup coming to the USA soon.