Courtesy of the Province

Yale LionDoug Primrose doesn't have to look too far each day to remember how great playing high school rugby for Abbotsford's Yale Secondary was back in the late 1980s and how fashionable it has suddenly become all over again.

When he left the school as part of its first-ever graduating class of seniors in 1988, the Lions' rugby program was coming off a sixth-place finish at the B.C. Triple A championships.

Subsequent seasons didn't deliver the same kind of success and the school was actually without a rugby program five years ago.

Yet 22 years after his graduation, with a 40th birthday on the horizon, Primrose has helped to oversee the revitalization of the sport at a school known for its provincial championship senior boys basketball teams.

"My heart has always been at Yale, so when the opportunity came up to go back to my old school I was pretty excited," says Primrose, part of a five-member coaching staff at Yale, which this season has about 150 players wearing school colours on two senior boys teams, two junior boys teams and one girls team.

A collision sport? Yes.

But in Yale's case, its recent success might better be described as the perfect confluence of co-operation.

Abbotsford Rugby Club has 75 children signed up for its mini-rugby program, which Primrose and others are busy running on most Sunday mornings.

Five teachers hired by Yale have rugby backgrounds, and it's much the same at nearby Fraser Middle School, which sends many of its students to Yale to start their Grade 9 high school experience with three years of seasoning in the game.

"The first time I ever played rugby was when I came to Yale," said Primrose, who jumped at the chance to return to Yale and work with his former high school coach and teacher Ron Sweeney just prior to Sweeney's retirement.

"But now Fraser Middle has kids starting to play the game in the sixth grade. Rugby has grown so much since my days in high school."

Yet there is an old-school flavour to the Yale program, and that comes courtesy of two other members of the coaching staff: Greg Byron and Clayton Radons.

"The three of us used to play against each other in high school and we have been friends ever since," Primrose says of Byron, who played at W.J. Mouat, and Radons, who played for Abbotsford Senior.

"All five of us on the staff are friends. Everybody gets along. And really, there is no head coach. We are all co-coaches."

And after four years of building, the payoff is just starting to show itself at the senior varsity level.

Yale, ranked No. 6 in the Triple A rankings, has been as high as No. 5, and clearly have their sights set on the Final Four at the upcoming B.C. championships, which just happen to be in Abbotsford May 29-June 3.

The Lions finished the season a perfect 6-0 in the Fraser Valley and next Wednesday open play at the Fraser Valley championships, looking for one of the zone's five B.C. berths.

And when you look at Grade 11 players like lock Tyler Barons and wing Christian Styles, both of whom have just returned from a U.K. tour with the Canadian Under-17 team, you get the idea that Yale rugby has become a true program.

"It used to be that you would find a bunch of athletes in the school and then try to talk them into playing rugby," said Primrose. "But nowadays at our school, we have rugby players who happen to play other sports."

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