by Steve Cohen with Darrin Barner
Little did I know back in 2002 when I started the East Coast D3 Collegiate Championship of the positive impact it would eventually have on the lives of those involved. This past year the interest level in NSCRO has gone through the roof. In the last week we had 10,000 hits on our website. This year we’ve had 70,000 hits. Putting this in perspective, the previous year we had 9,000 hits total. What has NSCRO done to deserve such interest? Glad you ask…so let me share with you the story of Wayne State College of Nebraska. The school has about 1200 men and 1400 women enrolled in undergraduate studies. It is truly a small college. It is not Wayne State University of Michigan as people often mistake them for.
Darrin Barner is the founder and head coach of the Wayne State College (WSC) of Nebraska Men's and Women's Rugby Club. On the weekend Nov. 17-18, after a 23-hour bus ride to Cherry Hill, New Jersey just 2 days earlier, his women's club dug deep and stood tall in barely winning their NSCRO National Championship semifinal match vs. Wheaton College with an end of match goal line stand. The following day they powered their way past Roger Williams University to win the Small College National Championship.
The following is an email Darrin wrote to USA Rugby's College Directors Rich Cortez and Tam Breckenridge in reply to their congratulations for doing so. It hits the target when one wants to understand what "The NSCRO Difference" is.
“The difference in NSCRO and Division 2 is pretty easy to see.
A few years ago the Women made it to USAR’s D2 Sweet 16. Not once, but twice.
One year it was a car ride to Florida for 22 hours, only to be down 0-59 at the half.
Another year it was a long drive to New Mexico and to be down at halftime to a California school 0-54.
It was safe to say, it was ‘girls vs women’ in both matches.
By far, NOT FUN and a wasted trip and the final score was demoralizing.
Possibly the best team at this year’s NSCRO Championship was Wheaton who we beat by 2 points stopping them on the 6 inch line on the last play of the semifinal.
We just had a little luck come our way, and with our bad luck the last few years in critical moments, in a way….I think the Rugby Gods, smiled and said we needed some luck for some serious hard work over the years.
NSCRO’s women’s playoffs came west 2 years when I received a call from its President, Steve Cohen asking……..do you seriously have a D3 league? So Steve combined our league from the Great Plains RFU with the Minnesota RFU to give birth to NSCRO’s “West” Region and an opportunity to realize a National Championship title. We deserved that chance.
And poof, WSC is now playing in a league that makes them work harder than ever to get to the Final 4, for one reason………..”There is light at the end of the tunnel”.
Steve has come out to Wayne 3 times to run both men’s and women’s NSCRO playoff events and has seen us up close and knows how hard the team has worked to build itself and its home facility Wayne Rugby Park into a source of pride. Honestly, the Wayne girls truly deserved their shot at the National title.
About our team….
This year we 37 CIPPed players with a handful joining the team with ABSOLUTELY NO athletic talent, but they joined the rugby club at age 18 to simply belong to be of a group, be part of a “Family”. It’s not winning that makes a rugby club successful, it’s being a true “Club/Family” off the pitch.
Wayne is in a town only 12 blocks long and but has a collegiate radio station – The Cat at 91.9 FM - that does rugby play by play for our home matches. Wayne and the entire NE Nebraska area was so involved in the playoffs, that a stronger signal station covered the games in Cherry Hill for the National Championship, to broadcast the game play by play to all the farm town in NE Nebraska.
Our win last Sunday got us a parade up Main Street, we all rode fire trucks with flags waving on Main Street, 3 newspapers and 2 TV stations on hand.
Nothing short of the Bronco’s winning the Super Bowl, in our town.
When we turned into campus there was about 1,000 people standing at the football field, the girls just broke down and cried seeing friend and instructors from the college wearing Black and Gold.
All this with a 23 acre rugby complex with 5 fields, and NOT one penny from the city or school into our “Club” facility. We do all we can to promote good small school rugby in our Northeast Nebraska area.
I also had a girl play this year, who came to her first 3 practices with flip flops…why?…that was her ONLY pair of shoes. Yes, she is just as important as a returning player at WSC.
We struggle for everything, and like Steve being a watchful eye for the underdog small enrollment underfunded 300 teams of the USA, I do my best to be a shepherd, and keep these girls focused on simply playing the game of rugby, that all of us feel, is the best game in the world.
The game is competitive, but if taught properly, the players gain life skills and learn lessons of value such as how special it is to being committed to a family.
We are very grateful that our school covered the cost of the bus trip, that was 23 hours each way.
When we returned, I was amazed on how many watched the web broadcast. NSCRO live streamed all of the matches. I swear every man, woman and child watched the web stream in town.
Thank you for your grant for the women’s finals when Steve and I were there a few weeks ago.
I am hoping you see how the almost 300 men’s and women’s colleges that participate in small college leagues vying for the NSCRO title can use our experience for themselves.
Wayne is nothing short of being a “traveling gypsy show of motley crew small town students that other sports teams DON’T want”.
If not for NSCRO this experience would have ended up another 0-80 loss like our experiences before in D2. Can Wayne return to the Final 4 next year? Ya, could.
Do I want Wayne to win it all?
Seriously not really…as I would rather have someone else enjoy what we experienced, wanting another one would not be sharing the experience of a lifetime.
Though it does not mean we won’t try to reach the top again, the girl’s want a 2nd serving of dessert.
NSCRO is nothing short than the country song “Red Solo Cup”.
Sometimes the warmest people and best food is just at a small farm town roadside café.
A big fancy restaurant with bright lights, DOES NOT mean it has the best food in town.
The best place in our area to eat is in a town of only 80 people. Small is GOOD, when served family style.
3 cheers to the little schools that have their own stage now.
I salute all of you to your goals of small college promotion, marketing and championships.
And how does Wayne rugby celebrate?
Hanging up all the trees and decorations on Monday at the old folk’s home.
That’s what a club does, it gives back.
Hoping we can be an example of very hard work to get to the NSCRO Final 4.
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