When the U.S. Rugby team went to Spain to play in this year’s rugby World Cup, Rebecca Metzger took with her the hopes of nine special school children — her students in the lab program at Charles Barrett Elementary School in Alexandria.
Metzger, 26, an Arlington resident, has just completed her first year of teaching in Alexandria and her first World Cup competition. "I know it sounds kind of funny to say that rugby helps me with teaching special education, but it does," Metzger said. "Rugby is a very physical sport and it allows me to release stress after a difficult week. On the other hand, teaching requires patience and so does rugby. You can’t always just go down the field all out; you have to be patient."
Metzger encourages her students to play sports. "It doesn’t matter whether they play baseball or basketball or soccer," said one parent. "She comes to the kids’ games and cheers for them. It has meant a lot to my son for his teacher to come and watch him play on weekends. It shows him that she thinks he’s special."
<b>THEY ARE SPECIAL,</b> to Metzger. "Every child is an individual," Metzger said. "I work with kids who have been diagnosed with some type of emotional disturbance, everything from Attention Deficit Disorder to psychiatric disorders. They do have a lot of needs but many of those needs are in the area of social adjustment. Sports teaches them to work with other children and helps them to understand the team concept. It’s amazing to watch a child’s self esteem increase as he or she becomes competent at a sport. Going to watch them helps me to establish a good report with the student and I can use the sports experience to motivate them in school."
Metzger didn’t start playing rugby until college at Penn State University. "Most parents just aren’t ready to watch their daughters play a sport like rugby," she said. "There is a lot of contact. I started playing in college because some friends were going to practice one day and just took me along."
That Penn State team won a national title in 1997. "We were very competitive," Metzger said. "Rugby is the fastest growing women’s college sport."
<b>AFTER GRADUATION</b> from college with a degree in exercise physiology, she came to the Washington, D.C., area and worked as a personal trainer for a year. "I really enjoyed that but I guess I just got restless and was looking in the classifieds one day and saw an ad for a special education program at George Washington University."
She enrolled and got her master’s degree in special education. "I’ve always wanted to teach," she said. "My mother’s a reading teacher and I’ve just always been interested in teaching."
The lab program is not an easy teaching assignment. "I guess I wanted to teach special education because it’s something that I like and there aren’t a lot of teachers who really want to teach special education."
V. Rodger Digilio, a member of the School Board, and the Board liaison to Charles Barrett, applauds Metzger’s dedication. "The lab program at Barrett is doing well," he said. "And the determinant of the success of any lab program is the teacher."
Whether it is teaching or playing rugby, Metzger goes the extra mile. "The kids like it that I play rugby and that I am a girl who plays a sport that involves tackling people," she said. "They like to hear about our games and see my bruises."
They were all cheering for her during the two weeks that she was in Spain with the U. S. A. team. The women finished seventh, winning two and losing two. "A lot of us are young and didn’t have a lot of World Cup experience," she said. "Considering all of that, we did great."
<b>METZGER WILL</b> teach summer school and will keep in touch with her students. "I’ll stop by the recreation centers to check on them and just to stay in touch," she said.
And she will continue to play rugby with the Maryland Stingers. "I’m going to train but don’t know whether I will be around to play in World Cup in four years. That depends on a lot of things."
When she’s not teaching or playing rugby, she likes to go to movies, read books and walk her Labrador retriever, Troy. "I got him from Labrador Rescue," she said. "Everyone should adopt an animal from a rescue league."