Above: Participants complete a fitness session by Wellness in the Schools. (Photo by Shameena Khan)

On April 11, the Village Lions Women, in partnership with Play Rugby USA, hosted girls from local communities for the second annual Women in Rugby Day on Randall’s Island.

The event, launched in 2014, was created to foster the growth of women’s rugby in New York and highlight the player pathway that now exists for girls thanks, in part, to the programs provided by Play Rugby USA. Young women in the city can begin their rugby careers as early as elementary school and have opportunities to stay engaged in the sport through middle and high school, college, and beyond.

That Saturday, the Leonas represented the last stop on that player pathway with enthusiasm and positivity as they encouraged the girls, ages 13 to 18, to participate in activities designed specifically for female rugby players. Participants played games, sharpened their skills, and met new friends, all working toward the goal of strengthening the women’s rugby community.

Desiree Vodounon, a member of Village Lions RFC since 2012, said she participated because, “If I imagine myself at their age, I would be very excited to come to something like this.”

The event featured four stations, including an interactive workshop on overcoming challenges from PowerPlay NYC, a fitness session by Wellness in the Schools, and a rugby skills session from Play Rugby USA. PowerPlay instills self-esteem and confidence in children of all ages through their participation in sports and play. Wellness in the Schools encourages healthy eating, environmental awareness, and fitness as a way of life for kids in public schools. Play Rugby USA works to develop youth through rugby.

Leonas second row Mallory Woods was a passionate leader during group activities. Woods noted: “I think it’s important for these young girls to meet women who have been playing the sport as long as we have and see that it’s possible to stay connected to the community long after high school. And it’s a great opportunity for the Lions to give back and showcase the best aspects of women’s rugby.”

Woods, who has coordinated Women in Rugby Day since its launch, has seen the event grow, as more girls participated this year.

“Not only was today a fun time for the kids, but one for us all,” said Shameena Khan, the Leonas team manager.

The Leonas return to the pitch on April 18 away at Doylestown.