Regina Mini Rugby a hit with kids
Rain or shine, Regina youth are hitting the field to learn about rugby
Warmer weather means swimming lessons and soccer games for many families, but in Regina, a new activity can be added to the summertime sports lineup.
Regina Mini Rugby has kicked off for the season.
The league is hoping to introduce Regina's youngest generation to the sport, and more than 200 children have registered so far, according to Robert Godfrey, the group's director.
"I said 'sure I'll be a coach for 25 kids', and that was the start and now here we are," he explained, with a nod toward a group of exuberant players on the Fairchild Park field.
In 2015, Regina Mini Rugby had 100 participants. The league has since doubled in size. Organizers had to turn some people away this year in fact, because they didn't have enough volunteers to handle the capacity.
Godfrey said the growth of the Regina Mini Rugby league has been chaotic, but a lot of fun.
The mini rugby league didn't always accommodate toddlers, Godfrey said. It started off catering to children aged five to 13, but that didn't last long.
"We had a lot of brothers and sisters who were wanting to get involved, so we had three-year-olds, four-year-olds and then lately two-year-olds and we just couldn't turn them away."
A question of contact
The Regina Mini Rugby league is non-contact right now, because rugby is so new to the participants, Godfrey said. He has his players focus on drills and scrimmages for the most part.
Eventually the coaches plan to introduce the basics of contact, but right now they want to acquaint the youth — and their parents — with the sport.
When they tackle it's a cuddle and they lay down on the ground.- Robert Godfrey
Godfrey said full contact rugby, without padding, is a bit daunting to parents who are used to seeing the safety gear associated with football and hockey.
"They worry for their kids safety," he said.
But he added, "we know [as coaches] that without padding, full contact is actually safer."
Players learn how to properly protect their bodies when they are trained without equipment, Godfrey explained.
"When they tackle it's a cuddle and they lay down on the ground. We don't teach that. That's just natural."
The motto of the league is 'make it fun' and Godfrey said that goes for everyone involved, not just the kids.
Like father, like sons
Fausto Rodriguez has two children registered in the league. He moved to the country from Argentina.
Now my kids are playing the sport, they just want to play like dad.- Fausto Rodriguez
"I've been involved with the rugby community for about 16 years because that's why I came to Canada — to play rugby with the province of Saskatchewan," he said.
Rodriguez has played the sport for about 22 years.
"Now my kids are playing the sport, they just want to play like dad."
Despite Rodriguez's rugby background, he said he just wants his two boys, ages five and six, to be active and healthy. However, he doesn't deny that he is pleased by seeing them play a sport so dear to his heart.
"I'm very passionate about it," he explained. "I'm very happy my kids choose to play as well."
"The rugby community is small, and since I came here I've seen it's getting smaller and smaller. Programs like this this one — I find it fantastic," Rodriguez said.
Kim Bergey Kaip has enrolled her two youngsters in rugby after spotting an ad for the league online.
"They've played other sports but this is something different kids aren't exposed to as much."
Bergey Kaip had no prior exposure to rugby herself, except a course she took in university. She said many people think rugby is rough, but she's not concerned about the Regina league.
"This is nice. They get to get the skills without a lot of contact," she said, adding that injuries will happen in any sport.
Legacy in the making
Former rugby player Ron Forrd was on the sidelines on a recent Thursday evening, watching his grandson, who will turn six next month.
"He seems to be having fun," he said of his grandson. "As long as he enjoys it, that's a good thing."
They're making an effort trying to grow the sport and starting kids at a younger age.- Ron Forrd
Forrd fondly recalls his own days on the pitch, playing and being part of a tight-knit team.
"They're making an effort trying to grow the sport and starting kids at a younger age," he said of the league's organizers.
"It's been around for a long time, but there's a lot of guys trying to grow the sport."
The Regina Mini Rugby League takes to the field every Tuesday and Thursday, with the youngsters and pre-teens gathering around for treats at the end of practice.
League director Godfrey said one of the best parts for him is the number of kids who go out of their way to give him high-fives.
"It gives you a buzz, makes you feel like you're doing the right thing."