Editor’s Note: The following is the second of two parts of the history of rugby in Arkansas and is provided to Sporting Life Arkansas with permission from the family and friends of Keri Young, and published in her memory.
Keri, a native of Zambia, was a member of the women’s rugby team in Little Rock, an artist and died in a car accident in 2011. She was 27.
By Keri Young
In 1976, two years after John Young started RiverCity Rugby Club, he helped Linda Lewis start up a women’s team.
At first no one could think of a name for the team, but at the Ozark Tournament of that year they were listed as the Ozark Ladies and the name stuck.
Starting with only a few players, the club soon grew to a full competitive side. The Ozark Ladies joined the Ozark Union, which was created by the men’s side and started playing clubs from Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and other states.
John Young coached the women’s team for the first 6 years. In 1982 Wilma Keller took over that position and coached for the next 15 years.
For a period of about 6 years in the 90’s the Ozark Ladies were a highly competitive and successful team. They went to the Nationals three years in a row and placed 6th in the nation in 1995 under the ‘Warden’.
In 1996 after Jules McCoy took over as coach they went to nationals again both in 1996 and 1997.
In 1998 and 1999 the team qualified for the Sweet Sixteen, which was the new format to qualify for Nationals.
Jules later went on to be a highly successful coach at the international level (click here for more on Jules McCoy).
In 1995 the Ozark Ladies were able to raise enough funds for a tour of their own.
Helped along by their two kiwi teammates, Lee Hobson and Louise Loto-Smith (Wheezie), the team had a successful and no doubt fun tour to New Zealand for two weeks in June of t1995.
Along with regular Ozark Ladies, two New Orleans players, Tania Hahn and Andrea Wheeler, went along and played on the tour.
In 2002 a vote was cast to change the name from Ozark Ladies to Little Rock Women’s Rugby Club. This was done for the purpose of clarifying the location of the team, and its involvement with the Little Rock Rugby Complex and its brother club, Little Rock Rugby Football Club.
In 1978 the three clubs around Little Rock (RiverCity, Lyons and Ozark Ladies) got together and created Greater Little Rock Rugby Club Inc.
This was and still is a non-profit, tax-exempt entity and is the umbrella organization under which all three clubs fell.
The idea came about as a joint effort to purchase land and help rugby in the area. It became the financial base for ALL rugby in the Little Rock area. Equipment, select player sponsorship, club expenses – it all fell under the Greater Little Rock banner.
In 1980 the two men’s teams joined to form the Twin City Rugby Club, which meant there was now one men’s team and one women’s team in the area. Later on, the Ozark Ladies also changed their name to Little Rock, both teams are still under the Greater Little Rock Rugby Club Inc.
In March of 1998 Greater Little Rock Rugby Club Inc. became the proud owners of 34 acres of land. Twenty of those acres have been cleared and on them are a pavilion, shed, meeting room, pump house and sprinkler system, and three fields complete with goal posts.
There is constant work to be done and constant ideas for improvement. In 2007, the land was finally able to be the venue for our annual tourney, the Ozark Tournament – it was a special year for us.
The land has also been the venue for two USA Rugby events in 2009. The complete story of the land and how it has changed over the years can be read here.
When Greater Little Rock Rugby Club Inc. was formed, one of its chief missions was to promote and encourage the sport of rugby in Arkansas. What better way to do that than to get a youth program started.
In 2005 Pat Beard took over the task of getting the youth program off the ground. More about the youth team can be found here.
Greater Little Rock Rugby Inc. and the men’s and women’s rugby teams together known as Little Rock R.F.C have a rich history that any club would be proud of.
Thank you to all the ruggers who have gotten us this far and for not only keeping rugby alive in Little Rock, but for allowing it to thrive.