The high school girls rugby team in Banff is named The Bears and this week they were paid a visit by what could be their real-life mascot.
A curious grizzly known as Bear 148 surprised players and coaches alike when it suddenly showed up at their practice and started sniffing around.
"They just stayed on the opposite side of the field as it moved around the pitch," assistant coach Lee Garrett said with a laugh.
Garrett also coaches the men's team in Banff — named The Bears as well — and was leaving the girls' practice early on Tuesday to go to the men's team practice in another part of town.
On his way back to his car, a woman warned him there was a bear nearby, but he didn't worry too much at first.
Thinking the animal would be at least 100 metres away, he kept heading toward his vehicle.
"Then, out of nowhere, it just came out from behind this tree," Garrett said.
"It looked up and saw me and I was about maybe 30 or 40 metres from it and 20 or 30 metres away from my car."
He said the bear "put on a little jog" in his direction and he froze for a split second before deciding to run to the safety of his vehicle.
"By the time I got to the car, I then realized I've got to call out to the kids and let them all know," he said.
"So I called out and heard the ensuing screams of our girls team and the coaches yelling to calm down and get together and pull them all together into a group."
The humans kept their distance from the bear, he said, moving in a counter-clockwise direction around the outside of the field as the animal sauntered along.
It stopped at points to sniff their gear bags along the way but didn't dig into the bags to get at any food.
"I was definitely surprised," Garrett said of the encounter.
Bears are common in Banff National Park but visitations so close to large groups of people are less so.
Garrett said a friend of his did have a bear sneak up on him while playing outdoor basketball last year, too.
The female grizzly that showed up at the rugby pitch on Tuesday was also involved in a dramatic human encounter over the weekend.
A group of hikers said the bear followed them and their dog for about 20 minutes, until they made their way into a Parks Canada truck.
A woman from nearby Canmore also had an encounter with Bear 148 in April while out kick-sledding — a form of dog sledding — on a trail that runs behind Banff Springs Hotel.
Parks Canada says it is monitoring Bear 148 but so far the animal hasn't had any type of physical contact with a human.
"The only action right now is that we are watching this bear right now, and want to remind people to report all bear whereabouts," spokesperson Christina Tricomi said in an email.
Bear reports can be made to the Banff dispatch line: 403-762-1470.
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