Nova Scotia

High school rugby cancelled across Nova Scotia due to safety concerns

Players, parents and coaches are angry that the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation has decided to cancel public school rugby games across the province because of safety concerns.

High injury rate, risk of concussions lead school sports federation to scrap season

Claire Avery, a rugby player at Charles P. Allen High School in Bedford, N.S., says rugby is an inclusive sport requiring people of all body types. (Submitted by Claire Avery)

Players, parents and coaches are angry that the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation has decided to cancel public school rugby games across the province because of safety concerns.

Stephen Gallant, the federation's executive director, said the decision was made at the organization's first board meeting this year, and was the result of the high number of rugby players being injured.

"This was not a knee-jerk reaction today. This has been an ongoing discussion for the board after last May," said Gallant.

The news comes a day after a student who plays for Sydney Academy was injured during a game in Cape Breton. The student is receiving medical care, said a statement from the Cape Breton Victoria Regional Centre for Education.

A year ago, a Prince Edward Island high school student died after suffering a head injury during a school rugby game.

He said the federation requested statistics, covering the past five years, about the number of injuries in different school sports, specifically the total number of injuries and concussions or possible concussions.

For concussions or possible concussions, the numbers showed:

  • 149 in rugby.
  • 33 in hockey.
  • 32 in football.
  • 26 in soccer.

"The data was quite eye-opening," said Gallant.

For total number of injuries, the statistics showed:

  • 454 in rugby.
  • 187 in hockey.
  • 162 in football.
  • 158 in soccer.

'A difficult decision'

"It's a significantly larger number than all the others," said Gallant about the rugby totals. "It's unfortunate. It's a difficult decision for the board and sometimes those hard decisions are. This has been in the making."

The numbers don't show how many athletes played the sports in the past five years or the number of games played.

Brooklyn Peyton, centre, a high school rugby player with the Nova Scotia Keltics who's shown during a 2018 tournament, says she's upset about the decision to cancel the sport in Nova Scotia schools. (Larry Peyton Photography)

Claire Avery, a rugby player at Charles P. Allen High School, said she and her teammates were shocked and devastated by the news.

She said the sport is welcoming to everybody.

"We do not make cuts in this sport for a reason — because it takes every body type, every type of person," said Avery. "You need leaders, you need followers. Now that we are not getting to play, you have girls that are now sitting and not doing any activity."

On Thursday afternoon, a petition titled "Bring Rugby back to NS schools" began to circulate, and had gathered more than 10,000 signatures by Thursday evening.

Rugby players at Charles P. Allen High School in Bedford. (Submitted by Claire Avery)

Brooklyn Peyton, who plays rugby for Lockview High School in Fall River, hoped she would go to university on a rugby scholarship.

She said she's blown away by news of the cancellation.

'I just love the team'

"I started with this team, it's important to me, they are like family," she said. "My coach means a lot to me. He's kind of like my second dad ... I just love the team."

She and other rugby players at Lockview plan to wear their jerseys to school Friday and play some informal games on the school field to show support for the team.

Rugby teams from Eastern Shore District High School and Prince Andrew High School are shown at a match on Wednesday. (Jenna Smaggus photo)

Her dad, Larry Peyton, said his daughter is passionate about rugby and gets up at 4:15 a.m. to train. 

"That's the commitment and dedication level that I've never seen her have with anything else," he said. "This is a sport where I don't ever have to look at her and say, 'You need to practice.'"

He said he hopes the federation will listen to coaches, players and parents and reverse the decision.

'We don't want to wrap our kids in bubble wrap'

"You can have a chance for injury if you ride to school on a school bus, buses get into accidents," said Larry Peyton. "We don't want to wrap our kids in bubble wrap and put a fragile sticker on them. "

Tony Lindley, rugby coach at Eastern Shore High School, has been involved in the sport for 32 years as a player, referee and coach.

"I feel very sorry for the kids. The kids are just devastated by what I've heard from our athletic director at the school," he said.

"We just can't believe the decision. I'm just speechless actually."

Rugby Nova Scotia president Geno Carew said the group has asked to meet with the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation about the decision to cancel school rugby. (CBC)

Rugby Nova Scotia president Geno Carew said the organization has received "pretty much non-stop" texts, calls and emails since the news broke. Many members are coaches and former high school players. 

"They want to know what they can do to get the decision reversed," he said.

He said that in recent years, there's been an international push to recognize potential concussions in rugby and ensure players are safe. The sport has grown, particularly among women, locally, and he doesn't feel it's more dangerous than any other contact sport. 

"It's about evaluating that risk and taking steps to mitigate wherever possible," he said.    

Rugby Nova Scotia has requested a meeting with the school sports federation to find out more about the reasoning behind the elimination of high school teams. A permanent change could mean the organization would offer more options for younger players. 

"It would force us to try to address that situation and try to tackle the junior game a little more directly through our club system," said Carew. 

With files from Elizabeth McMillan and Norma Jean MacPhee

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