Earlier this year, Noelia Garcia walked into the gym at Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s East Professional Center for the district’s signing day with a barely contained smile and a rugby ball under her arm.
The only female student-athlete in the gym, the 18-year-old signed a letter of intent to play rugby at South Euclid’s Notre Dame College, where she’s already projected to be a starter. She’ll begin studying radiology this fall.
“It made me feel special because they’re a high-level playing rugby team,” says the John Marshall School of Civic and Business Leadership senior.
Garcia, who moved to Cleveland from Tennessee before her sophomore year, started playing volleyball, track and bowling, but was drawn to John Marshall’s recently formed rugby team after watching her friends on the team play a game.
“It looked really fun,” recalls Garcia. “I’ve gotten to state [championships] before doing track, so I liked that I could use my speed, and also I knew I could be aggressive.”
She joined the team her junior year, while still competing in tennis and bowling, keeping her grades up and working 30 hours a week.
But as brutal as rugby can be, the bruises, scratches and black eyes are nothing serious for Garcia, who has been playing sports since she was in second grade. Her combination of speed, fearlessness and endurance makes her a perfect rugby player.
“I just feel stronger, because if someone hits me, they’re not hurting me,” she explains.
Soon, teammates started noticing Garcia’s talent and trusting her to take every game-winning shot. She was named team captain her senior year.
Garcia wants to be a leader in another area as well: She hopes that future CMSD signing ceremonies are half — or more than half — women. She encourages women to face their fears in sports.
“I feel like guys think girls are not just as strong,” she says. “Yeah we are. If anything, we’re stronger.”