Local youth were recently hit with the rugby bug as Rugby Canada great Phil Mack lit up Tugwell Fields for a two-day camp.
Mack, a member of Toquaht First Nations, played union rugby and for Canada at an international level for the last 10 years. But the stellar scrum-half recently hung up his competitive cleats, and said it’s time to start giving back.
“Holding these camps will be a pretty big part of that,” Mack said.
The free rugby clinic in Ucluelet drew out a good group of kids from Toquaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Ucluelet First Nation and Ucluelet town. Mack lead the youth through passing drills, foot races and friendly scrimmages.
“I think rugby is pretty unique just because it teaches a lot of respect on and off the field. That’s something that is pretty important,” he said.
“It’s tough to see just in these little camps, but if you watch real rugby games you’ll see you have to have the utmost respect for referees, there’s no talk back, you help each other up off the ground, you shake each others hands after the game.”
Participants Bryson George and Anthony Louie were quick to catch on to the game. The First Nations teens paused to chat with the Westerly on a water-break.
“I know every other sport except rugby,” said George. “So I thought I should come and learn another sport.”
“I really enjoy it,” said Louie. “Everything is fun.”
“Everything,” echoed George. “It’s probably something I would do when I’m not playing basketball.”
Above all, George and Louie said they liked the team aspect of rugby the best.
Mack noted it was hard to see real growth in such a short amount of time, but he was hopeful that by teaching them the basic skills, some of them might carry it forward into their communities.
“Hopefully they pick it up and they go to their buddies and start their own little programs in their schools. If we just give them an idea of it now maybe it will catch wind down the road,” Mack said.
Carlos Mack, Phil’s older brother, helped organize the camp with a little support from the town: the District of Ucluelet let them use the field at no charge, Ucluelet Co-op donated a bunch of healthy snacks, and several local businesses gave freebies to use as prizes.
“We’d like to make this an annual thing. I see a lot of potential in these kids. They are picking up the game real quick. Quicker than I ever did,” Carlos said.
Bringing professional players in to conduct future sport camps might be in the cards as well.
“I’ve been talking with some ex-NHL players. They’ll come certain times in their offseason. Even the B.C. Lions guys, I’ve got a line to get some of those guys out in their offseason. Those players come out and really open the kids eyes to what they can do and what they can accomplish,” said Carlos.