Rugby Anyone?, Washington Irving’s Lara Vivolo Hopes So

Lara Vivolo is in her eighth year at Washington Irving Intermediate School and it really has been her only job since leaving SUNY Cortlandt where she majored in Physical Education.

imagesAn accomplished and competitive swimmer in college, Ms. Vivolo ranked in the top five of all swimmers within the SUNY system in the 100 and 200 meter butterfly. She was also the captain of the University’s swim team in her final year. In 1996 her athletic brother introduced her to rugby — a game he played at SUNY Oneonta and at Stony Brook. She played in the winter to keep in shape and the game transformed her life as far as dedication and devotion were concerned.

Sitting down with her in the gym at WI she recounted how the game of rugby has become so very important in defining the athlete she has become. "I am passionate about the game. It’s very competitive and demands that I stay in shape. I can’t begin to describe the camaraderie I feel with my teammates, because we play year round at the highest level of competition. Through the game I have traveled the world. As a matter of fact my team is in an All Star tournament in Trinidad and Tobago which is coming up," Vivolo said.

To many, if not most Americans, rugby is a word they know but a sport they know nothing about. It is played with 15 team members of which 7 are forwards, 7 are backs and one is a "scrum half," who acts as the coordinator between the forwards and backs. "The forwards are your blue collar workers while the backs get all the glory and get to score," Vivolo said. She’s a forward. A rugby field is 110 meters long and 60 meters wide. To start the game a coin is flipped, a ball — with similarities to a football — is kicked off and a mass of humanity comes together. The object is to get the ball with a player attached into the "try zone" where 5 points are awarded and 2 points are added on for a place kick through the uprights.

She is currently ranked in the top 60 players nationwide, and in 2006 her team — the New York Rugby Club of Manhattan — was crowned National Champions. That title had been held by the women’s rugby club of Berkley, California for 8 of the last 9 years. Worldwide the top women’s club team is from New Zealand.

With such an in-depth love for the game of rugby, Lara Vivolo wants to offer a much less physically demanding version in the form of "flag rugby," through a grant written by The Foundation for the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns. The modest $1,500 grant is part of a larger movement called "Play Rugby U.S.A.," which is a program developed by a New Yorker named Mark Griffin who played on the men’s national team. Basically, instruction and play would take place as an after- school program for ten weeks and could accommodate sixty children. Coaches from Australia and England would instruct young players, with the goal of educating and teaching them about the sport of rugby, and also with the hope that teams could be formed in the future. Currently, New Rochelle High School has a rugby team, as does Keio, a private school. White Plains has a men’s rugby club team and there is a U-19 (under nineteen years old) women’s program in the Bronx.

Lara Vivolo would love to see the game take hold locally and feels that the necessary funding and pool of talent exists in Westchester to make that happen. "Who knows, maybe my kids will see rugby become a pro sport," she said. For right now she is content to simply introduce to others the sport that has become such an integral part of her life.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento