by Phillipa Snyman
Writer for and on behalf of the City of Glendale
In October 2009, the International Olympic Committee announced that 7s rugby would be included in the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
On November 30, 2011 USA Rugby announced an exciting development for rugby in the United States. “Starting in January 2012, a partnership between the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Rugby will allow 23 rugby sevens athletes to receive full-time training contracts at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Chula Vista, California,” announced Nigel Mellville, USA Rugby CEO.
Mellville added, “Fifteen men and eight women will receive contracts which will provide monthly stipends, meals, world-class training facilities and high-performance support services at the OTC, marking a crucial step on rugby’s journey to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.”
On February 6, 2012, Glendale RFC’s Jillion Potter was one of the women rugby players to be offered a contract. “I am delighted to have been awarded this honor,” remarked Potter, “and I look forward to being part of the first professional rugby system implemented here in the USA.”
This sequence of events marks an exciting time for the game of rugby and for the sport in the USA. While rugby still remains an amateur sport in America, the first steps toward making it a professional sport have been taken and it is just a matter of time before the wheels of this sporting juggernaut begin to gain momentum.
In the meantime, Potter is happily ensconced in Chula Vista and reaping the benefits of the history-making decision by USA Rugby. Her daily schedule consists of everything you think it would be — skills and speed training, conditioning, weight training, recovery, team building and the occasional massage. Along with the other seven contracted women rugby players, Potter lives in a house in Chula Vista where she will be based for the remainder of 2012.
The contracted women players are not guaranteed a spot on the USA 7s team for any given international tournament. The Las Vegas 7s International Invitational which was held from February 10 to 12, 2012 was the first international tournament since the contracts were signed. Four of the eight contracted players were on the USA Developmental side, of which Potter was one. The remainder of the contracted women participated in the USA 7s women’s “Stars and Stripes” team. However, in future tournaments, the USA won’t always be able to take two sides to international tournaments held in other countries. The most recent international 7s women’s tournament was the Hong Kong 7s held March 23-25, 2012.
While Potter is living her rugby dream and following her passion, she is aware that there are no guarantees and that she needs to perform consistently at all levels in order for her contract to be renewed at the end of the year.
Women’s National 7s Team Head Coach, Ric Suggitt, said the following about the program: “As you develop coach/player relationships, you have to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘You’re not performing; we’re going to have to let you go and let someone else in.’ There will be quarterly reviews with the group and individuals, so they know how they’re progressing, where they’re at in the program and in their career.”
Suggitt continued, “We have to make sure that what we’re doing is going to make them successful in the long run — make it worth their time and effort — so there can be no surprises for the team or individuals. If you check with the girls, they’ll say I’m honest and blunt as to what has to happen. No secrets.”
Potter is up for the challenge and is no stranger to the type of commitment required to maintain her spot in the contracted player line-up. In 2010, playing for the USA women’s 15’s team against Canada, just prior to the Women’s Rugby World Cup, Potter broke her neck. It took Potter six months to rehabilitate her injury and get back to the condition she was in pre-injury. She has left her home, her partner, Carol Fabrizio, her life in Denver and her teammates at Glendale RFC behind to be able to follow her passion. Besides living her dream, Potter is making history and she intends to make sure that in the annals of history, the name Jillion Potter will always be remembered as one of the first professional women rugby players in the USA.