It's good news and bad news for the Danville Lady Oaks rugby team.
First, the good news. In fact, it's great news. This first-year team of high school girls achieved a stellar season, soundly beating all opponents, and in the process received a rare opportunity for a first-year team -- an invitation to participate in the Rugby Nationals in Racine, Wisc., in May.
And now the bad news. Since it's a first-year team, they were supposedly ineligible to go to nationals, but the National Rugby Association made an exception based on the team's exemplary record. Now teammates, many from low-income families, must come up with the funding to get to Wisconsin if they are to keep their dream season alive. They've had very little time to raise money and, being a first-year team, there's no pot of money from previous years from which to draw.
The next fundraising event, the Lady Oaks Rugby Fest, is from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Hap McGee Ranch Park, 1025 LaGonda Way, Danville. It will feature a Hawaiian barbecue and a mixed "touch" rugby competition (but no tackling). The cost will be $10 per person.
Karina Newsom, the team mom, said they've had barbecues, carwashes and dances to raise money, but they aren't even close to raising enough for the whole team and its four coaches to travel to Wisconsin, which will cost in the neighborhood of $20,000.
The team has 24 players, many of Tongan heritage. The girls travel from Concord, Dublin, Monterey, Oakland and San Ramon to Danville for practice. Brynne Newsom, daughter of Frank and Karina, is the only player from Danville.
"Brynne has played a lot of sports," Karina told me. "Right after she finished Upper Division Mustang Soccer, she started rugby in January. She plays the fly half, which is like the quarterback in football, and the kicker. Simi (Hingano, the coach) has two daughters on the team who are amazing rugby players."
The team's record includes three victories at the silver level against Berkeley, Humboldt and Sierra Foothill with scores of 36-0, 27-0 and 47-0. After those performances, the Northern California Youth Rugby Association promoted the team to the Gold Division, comprised of the top teams in Northern California, and the Lady Oaks continued to dominate, beating the Lobos 87-5, Pleasanton 36-7, Bullard 63-7 and Mother Lode 77-14.
Their toughest game was against Bishop O'Dowd from Oakland, where the Lady Oaks prevailed in the final seconds with a score of 17-12. On March 23 they played the Sacramento Amazons, ranked fourth in the nation, and won 19-7. Just hours after that win, Coach Simi got the call from the National Rugby Association inviting the Lady Oaks to the nationals, which are May 18-19.
"The improbable rise of the Lady Oaks mirrors the life of its head coach, Simi Hingano," Karina said in an email. "Born in Tonga in 1961, his family could not afford to send him to high school until a generous aunt offered to pay the tuition for his schooling. She only had to pay the first semester, as Simi's grades provided him a full scholarship until he graduated as valedictorian in 1979.
"After graduation, Simi served a church mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Upon returning from his mission, he was recruited to play rugby for BYU (Brigham Young University). Simi has never forgotten the help he received from his aunt and others.
"Thirty-eight years after he started high school, he has nine children of his own and has taken in countless cousins, nephews and nieces to give them the same chance at a better life. Six of the current Lady Oaks live with Simi, either daughters or children of relatives. Many of the rest of the team come from underprivileged homes."
Simi and his wife, Taufa, moved to San Ramon from Hawaii about 10 years ago. Simi works in Walnut Creek and coaches rugby three evenings a week after work. Taufa stays busy caring for the family and taking everyone to school and their sports commitments.
In addition to their daughters on the Lady Oaks -- Leci, 16, and Mata, 14 -- their son, Simi Jr., 16, and nephew, Mahe, 17, are on the Danville Oaks varsity rugby team, which has also earned a spot at nationals. Simi and Leci are twins.
"I think it is my turn to help others," Simi said of his extended household.
It's the hope of the Danville Lady Oaks that there's help for them from the San Ramon Valley community. To become a team sponsor and/or donate funds, go to the team website at www.danvilleladyoaksrugby.com or send a check payable to the Danville Lady Oaks to 416 Jonathan Ridge Drive, Danville, 94526. The Danville Oaks Rugby Football Club is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, and donations are tax-deductible.
Contact Georgia Lambert at firstname.lastname@example.org.