Sports & Recreation: Best place to pop a vital organ
The Sacramento Amazon’s rugby practice
It’s Tuesday evening and I’m headed down to south Sacramento’s Pennywood Park—it’s a little park that you might not be aware of unless you live in the area. The neighborhood definitely has a strange vibe.
Just as I arrive, I see a group of men wearing red shirts congregated in the driveway of a nearby house. One of them steps out into the street, making little gestures with his hand as I drive by. I smile, and take off my blue Dodgers hat for good measure.
When I pull up to the park, a large group of girls is standing in a tight circle. I take a seat at the sidelines and listen as a huge Tongan man talks in a low, calm voice. Although I can’t quite hear him over the police helicopter buzzing overhead, I think he’s saying something about their shitty defense and how to mend it.
Next to me is a pile of gym bags. An unattended cell phone plays a reggae song that I don’t recognize. Another one plays a different reggae song. Then another. (Note to self: If you ever want to date a rugby chick, buy a reggae CD.)
One of the girls breaks away from the team to grab her cigarettes. ("That’s like that one game in Oakland when we took our warm-up lap and everybody was eating fried chicken,” one of the girls tells me later.) The practice is pretty laid back, and seems more like a full-contact hangout session than a rigid sports routine.
“No, not like you’re on a cat walk, Brandi!,” shouts one of the girls after she too daintily strolls across the field. “Ehhhhhggggg!” grunts another after she falls onto her ass. Two girls collide, making a loud thump. It looks painful, but they’re all smiling like they’ve just found a pile of money.
It’s all about fun and not much else, their coach, Sefesi Green, tells me.
In 2001, Green was urged to start a girls’ high-school rugby team, which at the time was a radical idea. Many of the girls came from traditional families that believed females had no place on a rugby field. Of course, that belief was squashed when they started to compete, and win. Now, Green coaches both the high-school team, as well as the adults, and he loves every minute of it.
One of the girls runs over to the sideline holding her face.
“Does my nose look off-center?” she asks. Another girl tells her it’s a bit crooked.
I watch in horror, but Coach Green assures me they haven’t seen a major injury for years. Judging from crooked-nosed girl, however, I’m thinking our ideas of “major injury” are quite different.
Dangerous is dangerous, though, and rugby, by definition, is a physical game.
The object, basically, is to score as many points as possible by carrying, passing, kicking and grounding the oval ball in the scoring zone at the far end of the field. Players can’t be tackled if they don’t have the ball. However, if they do, they can expect a huge person to come charging at them, possibly cracking a bone or popping a vital organ.
So why would women want to participate in such a brutal thing?
“A lot of our Tongan players, they grew up watching the game. Their dad’s and uncles and brothers play,” Green says. “But it’s new for women to play rugby.”
Green’s wife, Faleaka, and sister Mila are Amazons, and, like their coach, they’re serious about the game. Ultimately, though, they play the sport just for kicks.
Mila Green tells me she’s excited for the game against the incredibly talented Berkeley club on Saturday.
Does Coach think they’ll win? “Nah, it’s gonna’ be another ass-whoopin',” he says. But that, of course, is beside the point.