Nova Scotia

St. F.X. swaps traditional homecoming football game for women's rugby

For 65 years, the prime-time sports slot at St. Francis Xavier University's annual homecoming has been devoted to men's football. This year, women's rugby players at the Antigonish, N.S., university will be under the spotlight.

Prime-time slot will showcase women's sports and champion team

Anna Horner is the co-captain on the St. Francis Xavier University's women's rugby team. (St. Francis Xavier University)

For many universities and colleges across North America, homecoming weekend is an institution with a long-standing tradition at the centre of celebrations: men's football.

At St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., that's been the case for the past 65 years.

Until now.

This weekend, men's football has been bumped from the spotlight. Taking centre stage during the big game on Saturday afternoon instead will be women's rugby.

Anna Horner, the co-captain of the women's rugby team, said when team members found out about the change, they were in a "state of shock," she told CBC's Mainstreet.

"We've been here, some of us, for four years and we've always watched football on Saturday afternoon. So for us to be granted that honour and privilege of that prime-time Saturday slot, it's honestly just really exciting."

St. F.X. University's women's rugby team was the U Sports champions in 2018. (St. Francis Xavier University)

The university's director of athletics and recreation, Leo MacPherson, said the decision to move the men's football game to Friday night to feature women's rugby was made in part because the school is celebrating 50 years of women's sports at St. F.X.

"The other key driver is, you know, it's 2019. Female sports have come so far," he told Mainstreet.

The St. F.X. women's rugby team has won six national titles since 2006, and in 2012, the school hosted the national championship, which drew a record-breaking 5,300 spectators.

"Many of our alumni have heard about their success, but not that many have actually been able to watch it in person," MacPherson said. "So moving to Saturday afternoon gives them that platform."

'A little bit of shock' for some football players

For the most part, the men's football team has taken the news well.

"Maybe a little bit of shock there as well if I can be honest," MacPherson said.

"People get caught up with tradition and think it's the way it always should be. So I've had a few comments and feedback that, you know, not understanding why we're changing it. But overwhelmingly the feedback has been very, very positive."

St. F.X.'s rivals on the rugby pitch on Saturday will be Acadia University — a team Horner said is the X-Women's greatest rival.

"People will expect probably a very hard-hitting, physical, even matchup where we hope to come out on top," she said.

The men's football team will face off Friday night against Bishop's University.

MacPherson said he doesn't know if this year's switch will become a new St. F.X. tradition.

"We'll see.… But we are committed to highlighting and profiling female sports across the board," he said.

With files from the CBC's Mainstreet

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