It was all smiles in the rain on Saturday morning at Fernie Secondary School, where kids came out for the first-ever rookie rugby training session.
Kids tried their hand at passing, making simple plays and tagging out their opponents in the introductory session to the sport.
“I discovered in the valley a few years ago there was a great interest amongst the children to play rugby,” said Min Merritt, the coach of the Elk Valley Women’s Rugby Club.
Over the last year she visited local schools to pose the idea of an organized children’s rugby event and rallied enough interest to hold the Valley’s first rookie rugby camp.
Merritt held the event with the support of Darcy Patterson with BC Rugby.
Parents and members of the Elk Valley Bulls and Bullettes volunteered to coach the little athletes, showing off their skills to the wide-eyed, eager learners.
While the interest in Rugby is relatively new in the area, its growth has been explosive.
The Elk Valley Bulls, men’s rugby team started in 2014 and subsequently a women’s league grew a year later.
“It’s just been a response to needs in the community,” said Merritt, noting that not long after, children wanted to join in on the sport.
“It’s growing across the province as well, which is really exciting,” said Patterson, who came out from North Vancouver to help out with the rugby session. “There’s little pockets that are getting bigger and growing.”
The rookie rugby camp, aimed at children ages 12 and under, is the first of its kind in the East Kootenays.
“This is just a day for everyone to experience rookie rugby,” said Merritt, noting that if the interest is there, a children’s rugby program may be organized in the spring.
The training session was free of contact, with players wearing red and blue flags while running drills and passing the ball.
The children were divided up into four stations, one specifically for preschool kids, and the other three rotating between passing and catching, running drills and defensive and evasive techniques.
“It’s just about fundamental movements, having fun, and learning the game of rugby,” said Patterson.
She says that the game of rugby connects a community larger than just the team.
“It teaches such great values, sportsmanship,” said Merritt. “There’s no other sport like rugby for giving respect for your team mates…everyone has to respect their teammates because everyone has a slightly different role.”
“It teaches that respect, for all differences, coming together.”