High school rugby cancelled

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NEW GLASGOW – The local rugby community is reacting to a decision to eliminate rugby as a high school sport.

Rugby teams heard over noon hour on Thursday that the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation’s Board of Governors decided at its regular spring meeting to cease rugby play as of noon that day, citing safety and insurance concerns.

“After a thorough review of incident report data by the School Insurance Program, the board has decided to take this action,” the NSSAF said in a statement sent to all senior high member schools. “Student safety remains the top priority of the Federation.”

It also means the current season has been halted halfway through its schedule.

There were reports of rugby players sobbing in upon hearing the decision, but players from North Nova Education Centre and Northumberland Regional High School, which fielded boys’ and girls’ rugby teams, decided to show up for their scheduled games on Thursday at the NNEC field.

There were games scheduled for 4:30 and 6 p.m. on Thursday, and the players used the time to discuss what had happened and its consequences for them while others took part in a no-contact pickup game.

Gryphons boys’ captain Matt Chediac has played four years of high school rugby and has also played with the Pictou County Senior Rugby Club’s Division I team.

He said high school rugby allowed him to improve his game to the point where he was part of the regional Under-19 men’s team.

“There are dozens in my age group in Nova Scotia who are affected,” he said. “All my friends play rugby.”

Gryphons’ co-captain Victoria Straub, who plans to play rugby at Acadia University next fall, questioned the decision.

“I think it’s pretty unfair,” she said. “I get that there are a lot of injuries but that goes with other sports. I’m glad I’m in Grade 12. It doesn’t affect me that much, but feel bad for the younger kids.”

Northumberland girls’ co-captain Abby Hendsbee said she was disappointed rugby was pulled n mid-season.

“It sucks for it to end this way,” she said. “I dropped out of every sport to do this. I was so passionate about this. I’m glad we’re all together.”

Fellow co-captain Lydia Tobin said she planned to play rugby at the University of Prince Edward Island but now fears she will not have video to help with her evaluation for membership on the school’s rugby team.

“Why not let us play the season out or decide before we started the season?” she said. “They got our hopes up and now we’re shattered.”

Pictou County coach Dave Delorey said cancelling rugby as a high school sport will weaken Nova Scotia in the sport.

“At the national level, in less than a year, we will be less competitive,” he said.

Northumberland rugby coach John Rushton also objected the decision. He questioned whatever injury figures were compiled to justify cancelling high school rugby.

“I don’t think the numbers add up,” he said. “I think it was really short-sighted. I’m as confused as anyone else. I think the rugby community has gone above and beyond to protect players.”

He said he would like to see the decision reversed, possibly in time to salvage this season.

“It’s a terrible injustice,” he said. “I don’t think there is any other sport that has the camaraderie or respect for one another that rugby has. I’m hoping everyone bands together and it gets overturned.”

Rugby Nova Scotia president Geno Carew and provincial Jack Hanratty issued a joint statement in response to the NSSAF’s decision and how it will affect its programs for younger players.
“Obviously, we are very disappointed with the decision and have requested a meeting with the NSSAF to better understand the reasoning behind their decision, the statement read. “This will affect thousands of students, parents, match officials and supporters.

“Both Rugby Nova Scotia and Rugby Canada are committed to providing a safe and enjoyable experience for all participants and we will work to find an appropriate solution to the current situation.”

From left: Nighthawks’ boys’ captain Bailey Pye, Gryphons boys’ captain Matt Chediac, Nighthawks girls’ co-captain Abby Hendsbee, Gryphons girls’ co-captain Victoria Straub and Nighthawks girls’ co-captain Lydia Tobin are united in their objection to the decision to cancel their rugby season. (Goodwin photo)