Danville's best kept sports secret won't be under the radar for much longer.
The nationally-ranked Danville Lady Oaks, a varsity girls' gold rugby team, was recently invited to participate at the National Rugby Championships in May in Racine, Wis. Supposedly ineligible for a national invitation given their first-year status, team supporters say the girls are "leaving their mark in rugby circles."
Lady Oaks players are mainly Tongan girls from the San Ramon Valley, along with a few non-Tongan teammates, under Head Coach Simi Hingano. Six of the Lady Oaks, either daughters or children of relatives from Tonga, live with Hingano and many of the rest come from underprivileged homes.
Originally formed as a silver team, Lady Oaks participated in its first tournament in club history on Jan. 19 at Treasure Island. They went undefeated in all three games with wins over Berkeley, Humboldt and Sierra Foothill by scores of 36-0, 27- 0 and 47-0, respectively.
Based on their performance that weekend, the Northern California Youth Rugby Association decided to promote the team to the gold division, which consists of the top teams in Northern California. The Lady Oaks have continued to plow through the gold division competition, beating the Lobos 87-5, Pleasanton36-7, Bullard 63-7 and Mother Lode 77-14.
Their two toughest games were against Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High and The Amazons from Sacramento, both nationally ranked teams. The Lady Oaks beat O'Dowd in a hard-fought victory that came down to the last second with a final score of 17-12. The Lady Oaks are now ranked No. 10 in the nation following this game.
On March 23, the girls played the No. 4 ranked Amazons at Cal High. After some hard hitting and playing with all heart, the Lady Oaks won 19-7. Mere hours after the win, Hingano received a call from the National Rugby Association inviting the Lady Oaks to participate its championship.
"This is a dream come true for these girls. They have played so hard and played so well," Hingano said.
The improbable rise of the Lady Oaks mirrors Hingano's own life. Born in Tonga in 1961, his family could not afford to send him to high school until a generous aunt offered to pay the tuition for his schooling. Although she was willing to pay for his entire high school, Hingano's grades provided him a full scholarship until he graduated as valedictorian in 1979.
After graduation, Hingano served a church mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Upon returning from his mission, he was recruited to play rugby for BYU.
Hingano has never forgotten the help he received from his aunt and others; he has since taken in countless cousins, nephews and nieces to give them the same chance at a better life.
With an estimated cost of $17,000 to send the team's 24 players to the competition in May, the Lady Oaks are holding a series of fundraisers.
"It would be disappointing if they couldn't go because we cannot afford to get them to the national competition," Hingano said.
The team held Hawaiian barbeque fundraiser on April 10 and will hold another fundraising event on April 27. The Lady Oaks are also seeing business sponsorships through the Danville Oaks Rugby Football Club nonprofit.
For more information visit the team's website.