When Leslie Cripps is inducted into the BC Rugby Hall of Fame, memories from her early playing career in Williams Lake will be enshrined alongside the recognition.
Cripps, who now lives in London, England, spent her formative years in the lakecity, and was announced as one of the 2019 inductees into the BC Rugby Hall of Fame earlier this month. She’ll join six others at the induction ceremony in the Lower Mainland on Jan. 12.
Cripps was introduced to the sport by her former high school coaches Mike Levitt and Lorne Sherlock, but her foray into international play didn’t begin until after she graduated from secondary education.
“I actually didn’t play any rugby in high school,” Cripps told the Tribune. “Mike was my junior high basketball coach and PE teacher and when I was in my first year of college in Williams Lake they were starting a women’s team.”
That was in 1996, Cripps was 18 at the time, and decided to play a summer with the Williams Lake Hustlers women’s rugby team.
“Then that summer I was going to Victoria to finish my last three years of university and Sandy Lumly, who was a girl at UVIC from Williams Lake, said I should play.”
Cripps suited up with the Valkyries women’s team that season, and for the next two to follow. The rest progressed from there.
She went on to appear at three World Cups (2002, 2006 and 2010), where she captained Team Canada in 2010 in London, England.
“I had no thoughts of playing for Canada originally,” she said, noting her coaches at UVIC and Team BC suggested the idea of trying out for Canada.
“I just remember I was finishing university and was going back to Williams Lake and we were in line for the ferry and one of my coaches, Spencer Robinson, he just said: ‘No. You have to keep playing.’ And that was the first time I ever had a thought I should try for bigger and better.”
Cripps then tried out for the Canadian under-23 team in the summer of 2000 where Robinson was the coach.
She played for Canada against the U.S. that summer and, the following year, claiming her first cap with the Canadian team to take on the U.S. in Ontario.
Back in Williams Lake, Cripps has fond memories of playing the sport.
“They [Levitt and Sherlock] made it fun,” she said. “We would train the same time as the men so it was a real social environment, we did loads of tournaments and we had the Stampede tournament. There was a real nice mixture and a really good group, and they all did a great job.”
She credited Sherlock, aka ‘Unc,’ for being the driving force behind the success in her early career.
“I’m very thankful for Unc for his work on this induction,” she said. “I’m very excited, proud and surprised, but it was a nice surprise. To have so many years away from Canada — I’ve lived here in London for 17 — is fantastic to get recognized.”
She was forced to retire from playing in 2012 due to a blood clot in her leg, however, had already planned to step back from the sport at the end of the year. Now working as a special education teacher in science at a secondary school in London, Cripps is married with one child.
Looking at the rugby landscape in Williams Lake currently, Cripps can’t help but smile.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “Even if you look at Quesnel and Prince George and compare what Williams Lake has done with players like Matt Weingart, the Ilnickis, Kayla Moleschi — it’s a huge community.
“That comes from the high schools with Morley Wilson and all those guys. They must be running amazing programs and getting the interest up.
“I remember watching Kayla Moleschi when she was under 19 and they were here on tour, and watching her I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s the next captain of Canada for the sevens team. Williams Lake is so good, so many world champions.”
Cripps joins Alan Banwell (builder), Glenn Ennis (player), Gord MacKinnon (player), Tim Murdy (coach) and Jim and Joan Porter (builders).
Details for the induction ceremony will be announced in the coming weeks on the Hall of Fame website at www.bcrugby.com/hall-of-fame/