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Chicago to Memphis, Making a Difference- By Sanam Cotton

Chicago to Memphis, Making a Difference- By Sanam Cotton


Rugby, I love it, I love it, I love it! With that full team chant was the end to my first Illinois Women’s Rugby Football Club (IWRFC) Practice. I had been tackled, had balls flung at my face, and had my body pulled in many unnatural ways, and I was in love. My journey to rugby was not one that anyone had expected.

August 2011 the Sunday before classes began at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign myself and a few close friends (the thousands of new freshman) rushed around the Main Quad searching for something other than sleep and study to do. I drifted towards the table that would have been expected out of the volunteering groups, tutoring for kids in the Cham-bana area, and a few other dance based clubs. When I was thinking that the day was just about over, the dry central Illinois heat was exhausting.   I spotted the women’s rugby table, my older brother Logan played for 4 years at Tufts University, and anything Logan could do I could do better. At this table something magical must have happened or the heat finally got to my head and I put my email down.  After getting back to my freshman year dorm and recapping Logan (I was really bragging about how much better my school was than his) I mentioned rugby casually attempting to appear ultra cool.  Well it turned out that he had a high school friend Dana who played for IWRFC.  He put me into contact with Dana and I was all set for my first practice.

That first practice I was lost, but also so excited—it was a challenge I was not instantly good it. Which to some might seem like a frustration, but nothing excited me like a challenge. My first season was just that a challenge, spending most games on the sideline with my only chance to touch the field was running water out.  I stuck with it and a majority of the credit goes to Erin, my vet and the queen of the impromptu inspirational motivational speech.

Fall season was tough, spring season changed I am still not sure why still, but that spring season hooked me for sure.  The spring season also gave me the first taste of team leadership, I was elected Alumni chair.  In charge of our lovely alumni base reaching back to our teams founding in 1973.  Little did I know that becoming Alumni Chair would be my foot into two years as President. During which I led my team through changing conferences, travelling to Penn State University and playing against the National Champ and a team full of current and future Eagles, recruitment struggles, hosting a Hunger Games themed tournament, back to back Whisky 10’s champions and all of this as a club sport. Being President gave me a whole new expect for all that rugby is and can do.

My senior year or what I called my farewell tour was an experience I would have never expected. For my entire time at the University of Illinois I had played Hooker, and I loved that position. I had an itch to try out scrum half, but only for one game.  Well it turned into an entire fall season and half of the spring season.  Playing scrummie gives you a different outlook on the game; you have to think about everything and then all of the possibilities that could come out of a possible choice. Other than playing position roulette, I was a senior and getting ready to move to Memphis to be apart of Teach for America. Leaving U of I, I was almost positive that rugby would be in my past, well that did not last long.

Getting off the plane on a rainy day on May 31, 2016 in Memphis was the day I would be hooked into Memphis Inner City Rugby.  As I circulated through the registration room at the University of Memphis for TFA summer institute, I saw something familiar a worn down, gilbert ball! Holding the ball looking close to angel holding that ball was Trotter. As he told me all about the work MICR was doing, I was hooked.  Now? I am head coaching Soulsville Girls Rugby, and do you remember that team chant I learned at U of I, well I end every practice with my girls with it. Rugby, I love it, I love it, I love it!



Kilani Gaston on March 20, 2016 AT 10 pm

Wow, I love your passion! So great to know that our city youth have someone so inspirational to look up to. Keep being amazing!