by Lance Pruett:
Washington, DC – Each November, for the past 14 years, the Embassy of New Zealand has partnered with the rugby program at Hyde Public Charter School (now known as Perry Street Prep) to put on a unique event, known as the Ambassador’s Shield. On a pristine pitch on the campus of Trinity Washington University, matches begin at 9:30am and continue until the main event. At 2:30pm, the collection of New Zealand ex-pats, known as the “Ambassador’s XV”, stride on to the field and perform a haka to prepare for their “battle” against a US Combined Services team. Although the contender varies from year to year, the finale always provides a great match for those in attendance.
The event is unique in that the hillsides beside the pitch are lined, not only with those playing in the event, but with people who come solely as spectators. Typically, several hundred people are present to watch the matches. A rugby supplier is on hand to sell their wares, while people munch on New Zealand style pies filled with meat and vegetables. After all the matches are played, the Embassy hosts a party where people drink Steinlager and eat, as one might expect at the New Zealand Embassy, lamb. It is, quite simply, a great day for rugby.
The Ambassador’s Shield is a fundraiser, with the proceeds used to support the rugby program at Perry Street Prep. The funds help the students, who often come from low-income families, take advantage of opportunities which may otherwise elude them. Not only do the students benefit from being part of a team, and all that goes with that, certain players have achieved more. Players from Perry Street Prep (Hyde), have gone on to; play on the USA 7’s team (PJ Komongnan), play on the Women’s U-19 National Team (Brittany Woodard), train at Auckland University of technology (Antoine Johnson et. al.).
Being a fundraising event, teams pay for the opportunity to play, which has an effect on the matches that are played each year. The past several versions of the Ambassador’s Shield have seen little change in the participating teams. The one exception is that this year, as last, the event lacks a women’s game. Event organizer, Jason Frost, advised that the last women’s match that was scheduled failed to materialize, so the slot was opened to men’s teams, and quickly appropriated. Every variety of men’s rugby is represented, Old-Boys (two matches), adult, high school, and youth.
The lack of a women’s match is particularly disappointing considering the following facts; the event is held on the campus of a women’s college, New Zealand have won the past four Women’s Rugby World Cups, Perry Street Prep fields a girls team. Although it would be unfair if current participants were no longer invited in order to make room for a women’s match, I believe that it would be appropriate to make a good faith effort to secure a women’s match when an opening in the schedule is naturally attained. The lack of a women’s match is the only blotch on what is otherwise a fantastic example of everything great about our sport.