Women’s rugby players from the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy will make history this weekend in Wilmington, North Carolina as they represent their branches of service and compete in the first-ever Armed Forces Championship for women’s rugby.

“As long as I have been involved in the All-Marine program there’s always been a want for a women’s side to get started,” said Staff Sgt. Alan Mcalister, head coach of the All-Marine women’s rugby team. “All of these military teams have females and they’ve been wanting this and asking how to get it started. A couple of the right people heard the right things and they started it.”

When Mcalister got word of an All-Marine women’s rugby team forming, he knew right away that he wanted to coach.

“As soon as that message came out, I knew I wanted to start coaching, and I wanted to be a part of something that is starting from the ground up so I can have some influence in it,” Mcalister said, who is a raid instructor at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune with the expeditionary operations training group at Stone Bay.

Corporal Haleigh Heverly, heavy equipment operator, 2nd Transportation Support Battalion, has been playing rugby for about three years and said that its inclusiveness is what makes the sport so appealing.

“Anybody can play,” Heverly said. “That’s honestly why I think rugby is a growing sport because small people, big people, old, young people, [they all] can play.”

The first round of the inaugural Armed Forces Championship for women’s rugby will begin Friday, July 5 at 5 p.m. at Flytrap Downs rugby field in Wilmington. Weekend play will move to the Cape Fear Soccer Park where an Armed Forces champion will be declared on Saturday. On Sunday, the top three Armed Forces teams will face off against five other teams participating in the women’s elite division of the Cape Fear 7’s Rugby Tournament, said Brooks Robinson of Cape Fear 7’s. Other tournament divisions include men’s and women’s club, men’s and women’s social and high school club.

Rugby, which became an All-Marine sport on the men’s side in 2008, has become the fastest growing sport in America and the fastest growing women’s sport in the world, according to Mcalister. A big factor in the widespread growth of the sport, he said, is that there are less injuries in rugby than football and soccer because of fundamental tackling techniques. Major League Rugby, the top league in the United States, had its first season in 2018.

To learn more, visit Cape Fear Rugby 7’s Tournament and Armed Forces Rugby 7’s on Facebook.