This year, men and women’s rowing and rugby are being welcomed back under the umbrella of Vassar College Athletics. Both programs have had a continued strong tradition of success at the College. Rugby in particular had a banner season last year. The women placed 3rd overall in the entire nation at Nationals last year, and the men, too enjoyed immense success by going to the Sweet Sixteen.
In an emailed statement, Rugby Head Coach Tony Brown explained the background of his programs. “[From about 1995 until 2011], Vassar’s rugby teams were not called Varsity, but were treated like our Varsity programs. The students had the support of Vassar Sports Medicine staff, administrative assistance form the Vassar Athletics Department, and were treated as equals to their Varsity counter-parts. Former Vassar AD Andy Jennings, Interim ADs Val Cushman, Kathy Campbell and Louise McCleary all supported Rugby as an intercollegiate sport. Funding for Rugby has seen a good deal of alumni assistance and that has in part been used for operational expenditures.”
Brown continued to elaborate on how this situation changed. “The arrival of AD Sharon Beverly saw the demise of this quasi-varsity situation as well as the removal of both Vassar Rowing teams from the Office of Athletics…From 2011 to the present Rugby and Rowing have reported to and been overseen by the Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs. Former Dean Rachel Kitzsinger and current Dean Marianne Begemann have always been supportive of the programs. They have worked very hard to ensure the very best for our Vassar students.”
According to sophomore Rower Nick Fancher ’17, the affected athletes view this change with positive reviews; however, they are a little confused as to what it means exactly. “I’m happy that we are now able to represent Vassar College a little more and it really makes us feel more valued. We’ve always felt relatively accepted as a sport here, due to all the support we receive from other students and our coaches but it’s really nice to be included under the umbrella. I’m not really sure what this will change for us. Are we going to be able to get some new boats or more funding? We’ve always had to do a lot fund raising just to keep our team running and I’m not sure if that’s really going to change.”
Sophomore Fencer Jackson Dammann ’17 affirmed the support of the student body and other athletes. “I’ve always felt that rowing and rugby are just as intense and as serious as other sports. I was actually incredibly surprised last year when I found out neither of them were considered varsity programs or were even considered a part of Vassar Athletics. I’ve always thought of them as doing the same things as other varsity programs just without the recognition.”
Coach Brown also explained what he feels this change means to him and his team. “The rugby teams and the rowing crews do the same activities as the other sports teams (sprinting, lifting, distance running, skill work), so I feel they have always had the support and respect of other student-athletes. But it is important that we are a part of Vassar Athletics from an institutional stand-point, as it says these programs are representatives of Vassar College and deserve support and recognition.”
Fancher is also pleased with the crew team being recognized as a representative of Vassar College and hopes that this recognition will help continue to bring positive growth for his team. “I hope that we’ll be better represented institutionally and that it might help us get into even more regattas. We’ve often been excluded from races because we aren’t under Vassar Athletics and many regattas are restricted to just school-represented teams. We also weren’t able to attend State Championships last year because we couldn’t get enough funding and they weren’t giving us enough boats, as we weren’t recognized as a full sport. Hopefully, we’ll get to go to states this year as it would be a really good way to show off all our hard work over the year…maybe we’ll even have more people coming out for the team and gain more respect overall.”
Due the confusion surrounding the logistics of the change, Brown tried to break down for us exactly what this change means for the programs and athletes. “It means that issues pertaining to the students who play rugby can be brought to the attention of the experienced Athletic Department staff. We have returned to what is essentially a Varsity Club program status. Changes may occur as we look at how the Department wants to work [such as] maybe transportation will be coordinated by the transportation person, but [the change has] not so much [impacted] the day to day running of the program[s] [but rather] the environment in which these teams exist.”
This change seems to be an exciting one for the coaches, as well as the athletes themselves, but the logistics are still being coordinated. Many of the other student-athletes interact with the rowers and rugby players in the varsity weight room already and the teams train just as often and vigorously as any other varsity sport so the change doesn’t seem like all that much of a change. The affected student-athletes are optimistic and hope that their programs will be impacted positively but are still waiting to see what exactly will happen due to it.