K.O. Onufry is the head coach of the Middlebury women’s rugby team. She has been at Middlebury since 2000 and is USA Rugby level 3 Certified.

K.O. Onufry is a revolutionary rugby player and is one of the founding members of Boston’s Beantown Rugby Club. After many years of faithful membership to the club, she has gone on to coach numerous club side and select side rugby teams. She has been written about in several articles on women’s rugby, and MCWRC is grateful and proud to have her as our coach.

KO Onufry,Member Commonwealth of Virginia Rugby Hall of Fame

Written by Jess Berry

Ever since she started playing on her first rugby team with the UMass Amherst men, K.O. Onufry has dedicated much of her life to sharing her love of rugby with the world. For decades, she has pulled on a jersey, laced up her boots, tied her hair back in the familiar long braids that run down her back, and stepped out onto countless rugby pitches around the world. She has become an icon for women’s rugby, but you would never know it from her humble, calm demeanor. She never did it for the fame — it was always for the love of rugby. It all started one fateful day in 1975, when K.O. was invited to a rugby social event by one of the men on the University of Massachusetts - Amherst team. There were no women’s teams at the time, but K.O. was enamored with the easygoing, fun-loving spirit of the men and women at the rugby social. One of the men told her she should come out and give it a try. Soon after, she started playing with the UMass Amherst Men’s Rugby team, and played with them for a year before she was invited to play for the Beacon Hill men’s team in Boston, whom she had competed against as a player at UMass.

Soon after, in 1976, she got a call from a friend from Bermuda who wanted to start a women’s team in the U.S. They worked with a few other women and started two teams, the Boston Women and Beantown Rugby, which has gone on to become one of the most prestigious women’s rugby clubs in the country. As a player on Beantown, K.O. was a member of six U.S. national championship teams. In 1980, despite Beantown losing in the national championship game, she was awarded the U.S. National Game Breaker Award, awarded to the player who makes the biggest difference on the field. From 1986-1987, K.O. was selected for the President’s 15, a prestigious selection of the 15 top players from all teams present at the U.S. national tournament. In 1986 K.O. also went on the U.S. Women’s Invitational Tour, or the Wivern Tour, to England and France. After initiating the spread of women’s rugby on the east coast, K.O. was showered with countless rugby accolades. She played for the ERU Select Side in the 1980s, as well as the New England Select Side. She was a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team from 1987-1992, beating Canada in 1987 at a game in British Columbia and beating them once again in 1989 in Saranac, NY. She was a non-traveling reserve for the World Cup in 1991, and in 1991 she was inducted into the UMass Hall of Fame.

Spreading rugby in the U.S., however, was not enough for K.O. She went on tour in England to share rugby with the women there. She laughs as she remembers one conversation she had with an Englishman after one of her games. “He looked at me and said, ‘Hey, I think it’s really great that you women are doing this. Awesome that you’re playing rugby,’” K.O. recalls. “But then he said to me, ‘but our women will never play.’ I thought, how wrong you are. Of course they will want to play! All they needed was a jump-start. Once they started playing, I knew they had the potential to be even better than the American teams, because of their resources. And I was right.” In 1992 K.O. moved down to Virginia, and she helped start the BRATS, or the Blue Ridge Area Training Side, a club side in Charlottesville. She played and coached for the BRATS from 1993-1997. While in Virginia she also coached the women at the University of Virginia from 1993-1995. From 1996-2000, K.O. served as an International Athlete Representative on the U.S. Board of Directors. Countries from around the world provided representatives, such as K.O., in order to convince officials to add rugby as a sport for the Olympics. Out of both men and women in the United States, K.O. received the most votes to be elected to the board. She was also a member of the National Technical Board with the coaches’ accreditation program, which decides the best coaching practices for rugby coaches across the country. From 1996-1997, K.O. played and coached with MARFU, or the Mid-Atlantic Select Side. She was also a recruiter and selector for the Virginia Rugby Union at this time. K.O. moved up to Vermont in 1997 and coached the Burlington Women’s team, or the Burly Girls. She played for them as well, until completely tearing her ACL and having surgery in 1999. She continued to coach for Burlington until 2001. In 2001, she got a call from Ward Patterson at Middlebury College. He had heard that K.O. had accepted a teaching position in the area. He asked her if she would do some consulting for the Middlebury College Women’s Rugby Club. She did so while continuing to coach the Burlington Women. She was hired as a coach at Middlebury in 2001, where she has continued to coach ever since, leading her teams to multiple post-season tournaments including numerous DII and DIII league championship games. She also coached the men and women’s team at Champlain College 2013-2015. In addition to coaching at the college level, K.O. coached the Vermont U-19 Select Side teams from 2005-2008, the Northeast U-19 Select Side teams from 2006-2010, the U-19 Middlebury Area Rugby Side from 2005-2008, and the Vermont/Upstate New York Women’s High School Select Side in 2016. As a long-time elementary school teacher, K.O. has also brought rugby into her classroom. She smiles thinking of teaching 6-year olds how to toss around a rugby ball. “I taught rugby in every school I taught in,” she said laughing. “I always found a way to sneak it in.” When asked why she has continued to coach rugby for so many years, K.O. thinks for a minute before responding. “I do it because I see the love and the passion that women and men have for this game, and it’s what I had. I’ve done so much and I’ve traveled so far and I’ve met so many incredible people through rugby.” But coaching was not enough to feed K.O.‘s fire. Anyone who knows K.O. knows that her knee injury in 2000 could not keep her from playing rugby forever. In 2002 she played with the U.S. Golden Eagles, a women’s team made up of past national team players, against England in Bermuda. She played with the Golden Eagles again in 2004 against the Lionesses, a team from the UK. She also continues to play for the Old Girls (and is the oldest member on the team), playing in the annual rugby tournament over the summer in Saranac, New York. With all of her accomplishments, all of her awards, and all of the recognition K.O. has received as one of the founders and catalysts for the spread of women’s rugby in America and beyond, she is hard-pressed to think of her single favorite rugby moment. She thinks for a long time before responding. “It’s hard to say, because any time I’m on the field... it’s great. All of those memories have meant so much.” This falls in line with her motto, one which she recites to all of the players she coaches before every single game, rain or shine: “It’s a great day for rugby.” For K.O., nothing could be truer. This phenomenal athlete and caring coach truly believes that every day is a beautiful day for rugby.

Virginia Rugby Union Hall of Fame