“You don’t get time outs unless you knock your teeth out or you’re bleeding,” Jason Stenzel, Black Widows coach, Argonaut 7 May 1995.
The University of Idaho women’s rugby club has been tearing up the pitch since 1977. They were first known as the Dusty Lentils, later becoming the Black Widows. These two teams competed around the region at tournaments like Maggot Fest in Missoula, MT, Fools Fest in Spokane, WA, and WarriorFest in Lewiston, ID. Just as colorful were the names of clubs that they faced off against: Gonzaga University’s Sisters of Mercy, Walla Walla’s Mother Ruckers, Eugene Housewives, and the Seattle Mudhens to list a few.
The objective was to touch the ball down in the opposite team’s in-goal area. The players and coaches interviewed by the Argonaut claimed that while strenuous, rugby was not as violent as American football. They enjoyed the competitiveness and the camaraderie which they shared with their erstwhile opponents off the pitch. They also learned strategy and teamwork. Anyone was welcome to join, whether or not they were a student. No experience was needed.
The Dusty Lentils had their first match in 1977 at Palouse Rugger Fest which they hosted with Blue Mountain, the U of I men’s rugby team. They lost against Missoula’s Better Side, but one year later, they were the only unbeaten club in Idaho and had taken the championship at the Motherlode Rugger Fest in Boise, ID. The Lentils received some funding from the College Activities Board, but the rest was out of pocket to cover travel expenses, referee and tournament fees, and league dues. They were members of the Pacific Northwest Women’s Rugby Union.
The Dusty Lentils traveled to Europe in 1981 for a two-week tour to compete against teams in France. A Lentil alumna, who played for a French club, helped secure the invite. There were no follow-up articles on how the club fared against European teams.
Two years later, they placed third in the regional tournament. If they’d made it to the top two, the Dusty Lentils would have gone on to the Territorial Tournament. The last mention of the U of I club in the Argonaut was in 1986.
In the 1990s, the Black Widows formed as a U of I club. They were partially funded by the U of I Recreation Board and earned money for travel and registration fees by cleaning the Kibbie Dome after football games. The Black Widows maintained an amateur status and did not keep official records of their game history. The Argonaut reported the club securing second place in the Lewiston WarriorFest.
The Black Widows’ first annual Black Widows Ball occurred in 2009. The Ball was a reunion match with the current team facing off against its alumni. For extra difficulty and fun, all the players wore prom dresses during the game. At the 2011 Ball, covered by Argonaut reporter Jacob Dyer, a mother and daughter faced off over the ruck.
Thirty-three years of stepping up for the scrum and the Black Widows are still with the University of Idaho.
Barkdull, Damon, “Black Widows portray women’s side of Rugby,” Argonaut 7 May 1995.
Brockett, Courtney, “Do Not Fear the Black Widows,” Argonaut 27, Feb 2009.
Dyer, Jacob, “Alumn back in town,” Argonaut 7 Oct 2011.
U of I Library’s Gem of the Mountains Digital Yearbook Collection
Winhelm, Linda, “Dusty Lentils to Portland,” Argonaut 12 Oct 1984.