Nestled in between Seattle and Spokane lies the little town of Ellensburg, Washington. Ellensburg has a population a just hair under 20,000 and of those nearly 37% were described to be living under the poverty line. One of the town’s main attraction is Central Washington University, a school that boasts a varsity rugby program. The Wildcats, as they are known, are a D1A program but play as an independent as previously having played in the California Conference. Like most universities’ athletics department Central Washington places a large emphasis on connecting with the local community and giving back to the town. Servicing the community is something that the rugby team must partake in, but according to their head coach Todd Thornley it is more than just a part of being a varsity sport, rather it is an integral part of the team, describing it as a “pillar to our program.”
Not only does the University’s emphasis on the community invoke the charitable spirit within the athletes it also stokes their competitive fires. The athletic department has created a competition between all athletic teams to see which can log the most hours on average per person. Setting high expectations is nothing new for this team on the field, however, the goal that they have set for themselves off the field and the efficiency with which they have achieved it is certain to raise some eyebrows. Thornley explaining: “My Team came up with the goal of averaging 10 hours per person for the academic year. Currently we have 280 hours for the year, at an average of 7 hours per person and lead all athletic teams by 130 hours.”
The wildcats focus is purely on their own community spending the entirety of their community service with local organizations that are aimed at benefiting Ellensburg. They’ve engaged in a wide spectrum of service with activities including: cleaning up the local ecosystem via cleaning riverbeds, tree planting, helping to clean up at community events, helping in Halloween festivities, or toy drives for the local children. The Wildcats have been making a concerted effort to get out in front of as many opportunities to help better their community and spread the goodwill of rugby. Thornley added “Community engagement is a very important pillar of our program as it has lifelong effects for our young men. Firstly, it gets us away from the class room and the field as a team and allows for an organic bonding experience and secondly it allows us to show gratitude for the privilege we have of being a part of this program and give back to the community.”
Thornley isn’t the only one that has been excited about the work that his players are putting in around the community, his players are too: “It’s something small we can do that has a big impact to the community” Sophomore, and Vice-Captain Deven Marshall explained. With so many hours dedicated to the community one could be forgiven for thinking that their on-field performance could suffer, that has not been the case. CWU has climbed up to number 16 in the D1A rankings, and they have put in impressive performances in the 7s realm this semester as well. Back in October they won the Collegiate Fall Rugby classics, knocking off Arizona in the semi-final and then again in the final. This was no mean feat either, as Arizona was crowned the PAC 7s Conference Champions a week later.
Central Washington kicks off their 15s campaign for the Spring with a string of tough matchups. On January 5th and 6th CWU will face UC Davis and #1 St. Mary’s respectively. Then on March 15th they’ll face off against #18 Utah Valley. It will be a tough test to start their season, as Utah Valley has already knocked off Utah, who were ranked #11 at the time. Regardless, of their opponent, if Central Washington are able to continue their hard work on and off the field, they will certainly be a team to look out for when the playoffs roll around.