ABBOTSFORD — One of the most significant sights in the world of B.C. high school sports happens with daily frequency through the spring months in Abbotsford, yet you won’t find its time or location publicized online or in any newspapers.
But if you happen to be taking a stroll in the late afternoon through the adjacent fields that join both Yale Secondary and Fraser Middle School, you’ll walk right into its midst.
The best way to describe it?
Between the boys and girls teams from the two schools, covering grades seven through 12, somewhere around 230 players are on the fields, receiving instruction from somewhere around a dozen coaches.
“I’d have to say it’s a pretty impressive sight,” says Doug Primrose, head coach of the boys senior varsity side at Yale, which last season made its first-ever Final Four appearance at the B.C. Triple A championships en route to a school-best third-place finish.
“We were the highest-placing public school,” Primrose says proudly of the Lions.
An energetic group of coaches, including Primrose at Yale, and former Canadian international Ryan McWhinney at its feeder school, Fraser Middle, has resulted in co-operative model to behold.
At Fraser Middle, about 40 girls make up the Grade 7-8 team, 25 suit up for the Grade 7 boys team, and a further 40 for the Grade 8 boys team, for a total of over 100.
And McWhinney, the boys head coach and also Fraser Middle’s athletic director, is proud to report that each and every player at the school has an official Falcons game jersey.
“It’s nice because it feels like we have built a strong program between our two schools,” says McWhinney. “Rugby is a game that requires a great diversity of skills, and it can be an outlet for a kid with more aggressive tendencies. They learn how to control their body, how to handle contact situations, and have a lot of fun.
“We invite everyone to come out and give it a try and we appreciate that it’s not for everybody. But we find that a lot of kids want to find out what their inner warrior is made of.”
There is even a mini-intramural season for Fraser Middle’s younger students and McWhinney credits a dedicated cast of coaches for making it all possible. They include, on the girls side, Akash Deo, Chris Meier and Kasey Smith, and on the boys side, Dilpreet Chahal, Scott Alexander, Greg Herron and other guest coaches.
And what has it all added up to this season? Both the boys and girls top sides currently sit undefeated in their respective leagues.
Around about 2005-06, when McWhinney became a PE teacher at Fraser Middle, Primrose was starting to get the rugby ball rolling over at Yale.
Currently, about 30 girls make up the girls team at the senior school with Marissa Meola, Larry Colby and Dave Carson providing the coaching.
With about 60 players in its junior varsity boys program, coaches Scott Hunter, a former Canadian international, and Clay Radons, field three separate teams.
And at the top of the totem pole, about 30 more athletes make up the senior boys varsity team coached by Primrose and Greg Byron, who is also the school’s athletic director.
Yet, as Primrose likes to say, there is no figurehead coach who is in charge of the entire program.
Instead, he says “We meet as coaches all the time, and we all work together. And one of our big things is, we don’t cut anyone. Our philosophy is that a player in Grade 9 might not be developed enough yet. And everyone plays.”
It is indeed an all-inclusive environment, and key to the whole puzzle is having athletic directors like McWhinney and Byron, at each end of the spectrum, who are also hands-on in their coaching roles.
“I am a PE specialist and the AD, so I oversee all the kids and I guess that puts me in a unique position,” admits McWhinney, 36, an Abbotsford Secondary grad who earned caps with the senior national team in 2005-06.
“I see every kid in the school, and I get to try to figure out how we can get them involved in sports,” continues McWhinney, who this weekend will accompany some 85 Falcons girls and boys players who will take part in a seven-aside tournament on Vancouver Island.
It is also a process that delivers a much more finished product to the coaches at Yale.
“By the time they come to us they already know the game,” says Primrose, whose team hosts a touring Australian side from Perth on Friday (1 p.m.). “We used to have to teach them but now they have the basic skills and we just need to fine tune.”
Trying to dethrone the five-time defending B.C. Triple A senior boys champion Shawnigan Lake Stags, is no small feat. Last season the Stags beat St. George’s Saints 17-12 in the provincial final.
But progress is being made. This season, Yale’s firsts and seconds swept their counterparts at St. George’s in a pair of junior varsity exhibitions.
“Hopefully, that transfers (through to senior varsity),” says Primrose. “Shawnigan and St. George’s have been in a league of their own. Yes, we want to win the whole thing. That’s the ultimate goal. But our big things is to be a program, not just a team. We want to try and get as many kids playing as we can and let the chips fall where they may.”
Seeing over 200 hundred kids out on the fields each afternoon, in anyone’s book, has to be considered a great start.