Northern Manitoba’s newest youth rugby clubs recently returned from a pair of developmental tournaments in Dauphin and Winnipeg, where they got to play the sport in a competitive environment for the very first time.
Throughout a three-day event in Dauphin, which ran May 31 to June 2, coach Hayleigh Bell said the Thompson Underdogs made their presence known by winning a couple games, a commendable feat considering that these Grade 5-8 girls were only introduced to rugby in late March.
“They were playing against groups that had been playing rugby for three years,” said Bell. “They were holding their own and winning.”
Bell helped kickstart this new local youth rugby program during spring break by hosting a pair of drop-in clinics at the Thompson Regional Community Centre that attracted a solid number of girls who had never played the game before.
In the months leading up to the Dauphin tournament, this group of athletes learned the fundamentals of the sport and even went through a name change, adopting the Underdogs moniker after originally calling themselves the Nor’Westers.
Around this same time, Bell also began mentoring a group of 11 elementary school boys from Wabowden, who competed in a May 24-26 tournament in Winnipeg as the Mel Johnson School Eagles.
Similar to the girls’ team from Thompson, Bell said these boys fared well considering their relative inexperience with the game.
“There’s lots of very talented athletes in that group,” she said. “People didn’t believe that that was their first rugby tournament.”
With these competitions under their belt, both teams are already looking ahead to the future, including a fall regional tournament in Dauphin that will feature youth rugby clubs from all over the province.
Bell thinks these kids are up to an increased challenge, and could even qualify for the upcoming Manitoba Summer Games in 2020 if given the chance.
“They’re a lot of natural athletes and they’re taking it up quickly,” she said. “But my main thing is having fun. Playing rugby is about having fun and the rest comes after.”
Following their next couple practice sessions both teams will break for the summer, with plans to regroup in the fall.
However, Bell said anyone interested in registering to play for either squad can still contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.