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SURREY — Rugby isn’t as popular in Canada as in other parts of the world, which is one reason why the Surrey Beavers club aims to start ’em young.
Kids as fresh as four years old are learning the gritty game at Sullivan Heights Park, the club’s home turf.
The Beavers’ Junior program is for players aged 12 to 18, and there’s also Mini Rugby, designed as an introduction to the sport.
“Everywhere else in the world where there’s rugby, there are leagues and competitions at those younger ages,” said Paul Kelly, a club executive, “but because rugby is kind of an outcast sport in B.C. and in Canada, you got to a run a program for kids as young as age four, up to around 11.”
The youngest players “run around together and work on basic skills” – how to tackle safely, how to pass a ball, Kelly explained, “just all those basic skills that kids would learn anywhere else in the world playing rugby. It’s just not as popular here.”
The Beavers club was formed in 1970 (under the name Valley Ramblers) and went on to win more than a dozen Fraser Valley Rugby Union championship titles, mostly through the ’70s and ’80s. Today, close to 100 ruggers wear the black, gold and green colours of the association, which practices at Cloverdale Athletic Park and gathers at its charming Beaverlodge clubhouse, a century-old building located at 17395 57th Avenue.
Kelly, a flanker on the Beavers’ Division 1 squad, was voted in as the club’s vice-president last year and also serves as clubhouse manager.
“I’m part of the new generation here,” said Kelly, 25, “and we’re starting to bring in some new things, changes. For instance, we didn’t have a Twitter account before and our website was kind of out of whack, so we’re improving those things as part of a plan to reach out to the community.”
Among older players, he said, there are some deep connections to the Beavers.
“A lot of guys who played in the ’70s and ’80s here, they have that next generation coming up, their kids, playing with us. And some of the players who were with us in the Mini and Juniors years ago, now they’re playing men’s. We’re going through that wave right now.”
In mid-October, the Beavers held their fourth annual Ruck for the Cure fundraiser, which involves some rugby games followed by a live auction and party at the Beaverlodge, all in support of cancer-related causes.
The event, held in association with Langley Rugby Club, raised close to $20,000, with special jerseys auctioned to the highest bidders.
“We gave a bunch of the money to the Canadian Cancer Society and probably around $7,000 will go to a local family that’s been affected by cancer,” Kelly explained. “We did it last year, giving to someone in the community, a local family. They really appreciate it, and it’s more of a connection with real people that way.”
New this year for the Beavers is a rugby program for girls.
“They’re out there playing exhibition games,” Kelly said. “The biggest thing is, some of the local high school programs, at Clayton Heights and Fleetwood Park, they have girls teams now and we’re really trying to pull from them. The girls program is pretty new and we’re hoping next year – and the turnout has been pretty good – that we’ll have our first women’s team next season.”
On the field, Kelly’s focus is all on the Division 1 team, whose 16-game fall/winter season runs from November to April, with time off in December and the early part of January.
It’s been a soggy start to the season, with recent heavy rain forcing the cancellation of several games around the region.
“I’m one of the older guys on our first division team, so we’re going through a stage where we’re a younger team, and we’re quite competitive,” Kelly enthused.
“We won the provincial championship three years ago but we’re going through some growing pains right now,” he added. “We’re trying to regroup as a club and get more competitive, too. Before, with a lot of the older guys, our club was more social-oriented and we’re now leaning toward being more rugby-oriented, more competitive. Our club is looking really good.”