On a Kenilworth Park field in Northeast Washington, 30 women are pushing, shoving, screaming and kicking in their efforts to reach an oblong leather ball.
One woman spectator is on crutches. She waves them in a fury and yells to her teammates: "Come on, come on!" Another woman has her leg in a cast. Still another has Ace bandages wrapped around her thigh and knee. All are victims of injuries received earlier in the season. And all say they can't wait until they are healthy enough to play again.
They are members of the Washington, D.C. Women's Rugby Team, the only noncollegiate team in the D.C. area. During the spring and fall they play East Coast college and independent teams. Their record this year is 5 wins, 7 losses and 1 tie.
The social rules these women follow Monday through Friday in jobs that range from secretary to what one describes as "political bum" are left in their desks when they take to the field on weekends. Rugby is very much like football -- without the pads and helmets -- and many women look at it as a way to vent their frustrations.
"I wanted to take out my aggressiveness," says Lila Johns, 24, a program assistant at the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology. "When you have a skirt on, you have to act like a lady, you can't express yourself. There are so many social rules. In rugby, it's the physical thrill."
The game comprises two 30-minute halves with no timeouts or substitutions. Any of the 15 players on a team may kick or run with the ball or make lateral passes. One of the most critical plays is the "scrum," when the eight forwards on each team face off for possession of the ball. "If you're not in shape, you won't make it through half the game," says Ellen Quinn, 26, of Southeast.
Moving the ball into the end zone is worth four points, and kicking the conversion is worth two. Field goals and free kicks through the goal posts earn three points.
"It's a crazy sport," says Kathy Long, a rookie who lives near Dupont Circle.
It's also a rough sport, and the Washington women have received numerous injuries. Whitney Burns, five feet tall and 90 pounds, fractured her ankle during a scrum. On Sunday she was dressed in her royal blue, white and gold uniform, watching from the sidelines as her team lost to the Norfolk Breakers 7-0.
Burns stared glumly at her month-old cast, covered with get-well-soon messages. Her doctor says the cast can't come off for two more weeks, and Burns thinks it will take her an additional two to get back into shape. But she plans to be back on the field as quickly as possible.
Burns is one of 30 members of the team formed in 1979 by former George Washington University players. The women range in age from 19 to 30 and play two 13-game seasons a year, including tournaments.
They recently won the sportsmanship award at the University of Virginia tournament, and at the Norfolk tournament they won the most important honor of all -- the best-party award. The women pay dues of $25 a season to cover transportation, tournament fees and, of course, social expenses.
Their coaches are Abby Elias, a Washington attorney who plays for the team, and Christopher Durr, a Fairfax dentist you played rugby for four years at the University of Virginia. Two nights a week they run the women through drills and exercises during practice sessions at a field at 13th and E streets SE.
Durr is one of the few men who attend the games.The others are usually players' relatives or friends who cheer from the sidelines.
Allen Evans was at Sunday's game with girl friend Kathy Stover of Glover Park, who is on the team's injured reserve list with a shoulder problem.
Evans -- who plays rugby himself -- and Stover disagreed about whether women's rugby is as exciting as men's. "Men don't think we can play as effectively, (but) the only thing we lack is pure upper body strength," Stover says.
But Evans believes women lack the "killer instinct" that he thinks adds drama to the men's game.
"When I tackle someone, I want to put them out," Evans says. "These girls don't raise it to the same level of ruthlessness. They help each other get up and things like that."
Is there any aspect of women's rugby that compares to men's" "Yes," says Evans. "The party afterwards. They get a couple of kegs of beer and party just like any other team."