With only 3 girls rugby teams at NYC high schools, organization tries to level the playing field

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NEW YORK -- Allisa Reach, a young woman from Queens, is trying to level the playing field for the sport of rugby. It's an NCAA emerging sport, yet few women play.

"Women should be more empowered. They should feel like they have the strength to be able to play any sport," Reach said. "Just because we like to play in the dirt and mud doesn't mean we're not ladylike. I think the image of what ladylike is needs to be redefined."

Reach started playing rugby in the seventh grade. She said few people knew about the sport, and she wanted to be different.

"The lack of representation in the sport doesn't affect me too much. It just means I have to work harder," she said.

When Reach's rugby team folded due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she joined the only other club rugby team for girls in New York City, Play Rugby USA, and set a goal of inspiring more women to fall in love with the sport.

"Play Rugby USA is a sports-based youth development organization located here in New York City," said Danielle Hundt, the chief operating officer of Play Rugby USA. "Out of 3,200 high school sports teams in New York City, there are three girls rugby teams right now. That is very crazy."

Play Rugby USA coach Ashley Allen said in order to draw more New York City girls into rugby, the sport needs more women coaches who represent potential players' diverse backgrounds.

Hundt added that society needs to normalize girls playing contact sports.

"It's very easy to convince a school to have a boys rugby team. It's exponentially more difficult to convince a school to have a girls rugby program," Hundt said.

She believes it's important to recognize how far women have come in the sports world over the last 50 years. She said many opportunities she's had were only available because of the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the landmark civil rights law widely known for its strides toward gender equity for women and girls who play sports.

"I was able to choose the activities I want to participate in. I am a woman who is the COO of a nonprofit organization that I feel very passionate about," Hundt said. "I know that we have a long way to go, but having that protection and knowing that a school, club [or] organization can't take that away from us just because we are women -- that is really important to acknowledge."

SEE ALSO: What is Title IX?
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Title IX, the landmark civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at educational institutions that receive money from the United States Department of Education, turns 50 this June.

Hundt's goal is to make sure all of her rugby players find and achieve success after high school.

"For Allisa specifically, she has worked very, very hard, and she has secured a scholarship to play Division I rugby at Quinnipiac University," Hundt said.

"My inspiration for playing rugby and my drive ties a lot into my family, as they sacrificed a lot coming to America as immigrants [from Cambodia]. Every time I step out in the field, I'm proud because I feel like I'm representing not only my family and my club team, I'm representing myself. I'm showing what I can do and what I worked for as a player, a student-athlete and a daughter," Reach said.

Watch Sofia Carson host "Our America: Fifty50," an ABC Owned Television Stations special commemorating the 50th anniversary of Title IX, on your local ABC station (click here to check local listings) or wherever you stream: Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV and Roku.
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