In anticipation of its home opener on Saturday, May 28, the Williams Lake Rustlers Rugby Football Club is looking to bolster community engagement.
When the opening kickoff takes place at 5 p.m. against the Terrace Northmen at the Ottoman Drive Rugby Fields, Rustlers president Rodger Stewart hopes youth, family and friends will be lining the sidelines cheering on the hometown squad.
“Playing Terrace is always a really entertaining piece of work,” Stewart said. “They’re a strong, physical team and we match up well against them. It would also be a great opportunity for the community to see how the game can be played in the central, northern parts of B.C.
“We’ve got a great relationship with Terrace we’ve developed over the years and we hope we can reciprocate with the kind of hosting they provide us when we go up there.”
Part of the spirit of the home opener is about how the club wants to engage with the community, Stewart said, noting the rugby club and its membership shares a dream the community will come to know and appreciate the game.
“We seek to build trust and earn respect as a centre of athletic endeavour and youth development that engages our community,” he said. “It’s amazing how many places in the world where the knowledge is there [about rugby.] It’s a lot more than simply playing a physically demanding game.”
He said rugby teaches players to learn about themselves, helps build sustainable relationships with others and how to function as part of an integrated team.
“It’s not all about us against them,” Stewart said. “On the pitch is one thing when you’re in the physical, competitive nature of the game, but you can step outside of that and when you cross the lines of the pitch back to the clubhouse you’re all brothers and sisters again in the spirit of the game. It’s something that’s kind of unique to rugby and something I’m not sure I’ve experienced in any other team sport.”
Stewart is inviting everyone in the community to come watch the opener on May 28 where there will be a barbecue, and tentative beverage sales.
“We want to attract youth, parents and families up to our games at Ottoman Drive,” he said. “Not just to watch the game and be curious about it but to learn about it and join our athletes and patrons and broaden that awareness within our community.”
Rustlers head coach Braden McCallum echoed Stewart’s comments, and added rugby is the most inclusive sport in the world.
“Looking at the high school level and even younger than that, there is a spot on the field for every body type,” McCallum said.
“Big, small, fast, slow, it doesn’t matter. There’s a spot for you there in a welcoming community. It’s a very accessible sport for those that don’t see themselves as sporty.”
As for the match against the Northmen, McCallum expects a test.
“We’ll have to see what we’re made of when we get Terrace,” he said. “We’ve lost some personnel from last year at key elements who have gone on to play at a high level but we’ve got some really strong young talent coming out of the high school, as well as some guys that were first year, second year, last year that have put on muscle and put on speed.
“I’m very excited and I’m very encouraged by it but we’re not going to know until we see it.”
As part of its commitment to developing youth rugby in the community, the Rustlers also have plans to start a Rookie Rugby Program this summer for kids aged five to 12.
“We’ve reached out to other people around the community and within our rugby community to get a program up and running that would be no cost to any of the participants,” McCallum said. “That way there’s no financial limitation.”
The program would be based around flag rugby with no contact.
“There’s no contact involved at that level but we do a lot of introductory skills working on those basic abilities of how to fall and how to move without injuring yourself,” said Rustlers player and head of the Rookie Rugby Program, Brendon Pritchard.
“It’s exciting and it’s a great program. I’ve seen some amazing programs run [other places]. We used to do some at the elementary schools in Williams Lake so being able to bring that back is exciting for us and I hope it will be impactful in the community and give kids another opportunity and some more access to physical activity.”
The Rookie Rugby Program has a tentative start date of mid to late June, following the conclusion of the youth soccer season, with sessions planned for one day a week for six to eight weeks.
“We want to make it sustainable beyond one year and have a program that comes up every year,” McCallum said.
“If anyone that is a rugby fan is willing to help support this junior program please get in touch. We’re currently trying to find a central location in town like Marie Sharpe or one of the other elementary school facilities where we can feature it.”
If anyone wishes to help support the Rookie Rugby Program they can contact Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.