Retired high school teacher and former Williams Lake rugby coach Mike Levitt has penned his second book about the sport: Rugby Rookies, released this month by Lorimer publishing.
The book tackles the issue of girls playing full-contact rugby, where the story’s protagonist, Maddy, and her friends, are determined to form a girls’ junior rugby team at their high school.
Through the experience, the girls battle adversity while navigating learning both the rules of the game and the rules set out by the school board. The adults, meanwhile, are concerned about the girls’ safety and even Maddy worries she is too small for the physical game.
What ensues is a story about a diverse group of girls emerging triumphant while the book celebrates the empowerment and self-esteem of young girls participating in sports.
Williams Lake gets a special nod from Levitt in the book, as the high school team is familiarly called the Stampeders — the former name of the Anne Stevenson secondary rugby team — and Williams Lake rugby star Kayla Moleschi of the Canadian women’s sevens team makes a cameo appearance.
Levitt’s inspiration for the book’s protagonist, Maddy, came from recent Lake City secondary graduate and U Sports national champion Carleigh Walters of the St. Francis Xavier (StFX) X-Women.
In the book, Maddy’s nickname is ‘Peanut’ due to her smaller size. Levitt wanted to portray the sport of rugby as suitable for all types, shapes and sizes of people.
“I’d talked to Carleigh about her experiences and I stole a quote from her in the last couple pages of the book,” Levitt said. “I’d asked her what the pros and cons are of being a woman of smaller size playing at a high level.”
Her response was postive, funny and stuck with Levitt.
“My coaches always tell me to get low to make a tackle,” Walters told Levitt. “I always say: ‘I’m already there.’”
Levitt also drew on his own experiences writing the novel as a teacher and coach within the school system.
“It was around the mid to late 1980s at the old Williams Lake junior secondary when some girls did exactly what happens in this book: they wanted to start a girls rugby team,” Levitt said.
“I was coaching the boys at the time but I was able to see what was going on. Much like in this story, there was huge adversity. The other coaches in the school, they were really averse. They thought: ‘Wow. You’re going to break our kids, Levitt.’”
Also a member of the Williams Lake men’s rugby team, The Rustlers, Levitt found himself as the liaison between the school and the club which, ultimately, took on the role of coaches to the young girls forming the team at the time.
“There was no support from within the school, really, until (current girls rugby coach and teacher) Morley Wilson took up the reins. It had been the Rustlers club members who did all the coaching and organizing of those girls.”
He pointed to the efforts of club members Randy Cobb, Todd Prtichard, Mauro Calabrese, Dean Fulton, Nicky Dunlop, Kevin Ernst and Dave Hughes for getting the girls’ rugby program off the ground.
Targeted at reluctant readers, Levitt said the book is easy to pick up for youth aged 10 to 13.
Former Williams Lake resident and rugby player Leslie Cripps —also a former Canadian team captain who represented Canada at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup, former London, England-based Saracens player and player and coach for international all-star team, the Nomads — gave a glowing review of the book.
Levitt’s first offering, Rugby Rivals, was released in February of 2020 — also with Lorimer — and is about a high school boy grappling a balance between rugby, education, friendship and family.
Levitt said he took up creative writing six years ago after moving to Kamloops to be closer to his grandchildren following his retirement. He is currently working on his third book, for a to-be-announced released date.
Rugby Rookies is available to order online through Lorimer, and is also available to order at The Open Book in Williams Lake.
Check the Tribune’s website and Facebook page in the near future for a rugby trivia quiz, where prizes — including a copy of Rugby Rookies — donated by Levitt and rugby swag the Williams Lake Rustlers, and Lake City secondary, will be given away.