WEST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – Meet the Peoria Bootleggers, the first women’s rugby club team in Peoria.
Janine Schneider played in college, but after moving back to Peoria, she really missed her favorite sport. The closest rugby team, she said, is in Chicago.
“I really needed to get back on track, and rugby had been, like, in the back of my mind this whole time,” she said.
She started playing with the Men’s Team, the Peoria Piggies, but even that wasn’t enough.
“Just being back into it gave me my place again and made me feel like me again,” she said. “I have to play again, I can’t just practice.”
That prompted a very difficult “labor of love” for Schneider, but the club was born. The team’s slogan, very popular in Rugby, is indicative of a common attitude toward women’s sports: “Hit Like a Girl.”
“Now the girls have never had the chance to play a contact sport,” she said. “Historically, obviously, girls haven’t really been encouraged to play sports. And I think that from a young age, we are told that we are weak and that we are not built to play sports. And that we are slower and not as exciting. ”
Recruiting women was difficult for Schneider. Attempts to build a full team fell short last year, but this year, they have a full team and started competing.
“Just to be able to play again personally is huge, but to be able to share that with other women and see them fall in love with the sport too, it’s everything, honestly,” Schneider said. “Just to see that level of empowerment.”
What the club needed was a coach. Schneider turned to a man she knew was qualified for the job, Charlie Parod, who had been playing and coaching since 1978.
“She has been the driving force behind getting the women’s club together,” Parod said. “I asked her if she wanted an old guy like me coaching.”
He said being with the bootleggers is the most fun he has had coaching.
“They’re learning to hit and play hard and be hit and come back from it, and it’s really fun to watch,” he said. “The difference between them off the field and on the field is like a light switch.”
Parod said the rugby culture is for everyone. While the sport may seem intimidating, they got, after competing on the field, the teams get together and have a social. Schneider said they sing rugby songs, and Parod jokingly said they share “war stories.”
“You battle on the field but then become friends off the field,” Parod said.
Anyone can play the sport, they both said. Schneider even mentioned that the rugby culture is very LGBTQ + friendly.
“The women that we’ve got are very diverse, all shapes and sizes,” Parod said.
The Bootleggers, named for Peoria’s history as a whiskey distilling center, are looking to expand their team, and anyone is welcome.
“You can be yourself, and you can discover what your body can do,” Schneider said. “It’s very physically demanding. And to know that you can do it just gives you a sense of strength in the rest of your life. ”
Those who are interested in joining can visit their Facebook page.