Rugby the carrot for Banting students

If you’re interested in working hard and learning the game of rugby, the Banting Marauders will welcome you with open arms.

Came over from another sport? No problem. New to rugby? They’ll teach you. Cutting class and letting your grades slip? Sorry, you’re not playing.

The senior boys rugby team puts being in class and getting work done above all else when it comes to their roster this season.

“I’m really strict about it,” said Marauders coach Claudia Popp. “I check their attendance. There are boys who aren’t allowed to come because of it. None of them, unfortunately, are going to make money playing sports and that’s the reality of it. I’m very strict on that.

“There’s a handful that have to give up (their lunch break) for a while in order to still be part of the team,” she added. “If they don’t want to hold up the student part, they have to voluntarily remove themselves from the team.”

After school, the team is out on the field, going through drills and plays. During lunch time, many of them fill Popp’s classroom to work on both rugby and assignments.

“There’s at least 15 kids at every lunch either doing work, watching rugby video, helping other kids out, even helping some of my younger students out,” she said. “They need to be well-rounded. It’s not enough to just be a good rugby player.”

A number of her captains and Grade 12 students will take the time and tutor their teammates in subjects they are strong at in order to help bring their grades up. For players like veteran leader Devin Smith, that’s just become a natural thought.

“It’s student athletes, with student before the athlete,” he said. “If I want to go on and play in college or university rugby, then I’ve got to keep my grades up. Popp tries to help push the boys through school so that they don’t just come out as a rugby player, they come out of here graduated and able to get a career in life.”

The progress of getting them to become the former, though, is adjusting to one big aspect of rugby – the contact.

“It’s a significant difference from junior to senior for boys who have played, and it’s far more significant for kids who haven’t,” Popp said. “We have a lot of boys that have played football or track, but have not played rugby. So, getting used to the contact and the pace of the game are two of the biggest (adjustments) for them.”

With players from multiple different sports coming together to find success, the group has embraced their ‘band of misfits’ nickname.

“We’re kids from every different pull of life,” Smith said. “We’re not all rugby players that play club outside of school. We play football and track. We’re kids that struggle in class, but we’re natural athletes and, as a team, we try to bring them up, so as it goes, we are a band of misfits, but that’s where we get our aggression from, just being different and working hard.”

The effort and interest in the sport has made it a positive season for Popp.

“Over the last couple of years, this is the team I’ve enjoyed the most,” she said. “They’re really committed, they’re willing to learn, they’re being the best student-athletes they can be. We’ve got a number of kids that are new to rugby, but we’ve had a lot of commitment and some really good energy we haven’t had in the last few years, so it’s exciting.”

And whoever steps out on the field for Banting knows they have to take care of business in the classroom before they can play.

“I think sports, for a lot of kids that don’t traditionally like school, is the reason that they come to school,” Popp said. “I’d never want to take that away from a kid that’s trying to be successful, maybe not in the most traditional way. But I think it’s important that they recognize that academics, in whatever form it may be for them, is something that they have to pursue. If it’s university, college or a trade, they just have to keep their options open. With the rugby program, the boys are really good at holding each other accountable, so that they can graduate.”

In the photo, Banting’s Devin Smith carries the ball up the sideline in regular-season action against Eastview. Stephen Sweet photo

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