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Provincial minister calls upon NSSAF to reverse decision, reinstate high school rugby

<p>Evan Chambers was on a mission when he gained possession of this ball. Running with him in support is Matthew Peill.</p>
Evan Chambers, pictured with the ball in this file photo, has been playing rugby since high school. He sees the value in teaching the sport to children and hopes it will continue to be offered in high school.

'We want to see all of these kids playing again'

WINDSOR, N.S. —

Rugby fans, coaches and players are celebrating after learning that the provincial minister of education has ordered the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation to reinstate high school rugby.

This decision comes just one day after the NSSAF abruptly issued a memo cancelling rugby in all high schools, citing concerns for the safety of students and injury data that had been provided by the School Insurance Program.

Zach Churchill, the minister of education and early childhood development, said in a prepared statement May 3 that the NSSAF contravened the terms and conditions of the Memorandum of Agreement it has with his department.

Further, Churchill noted that respected physicians were weighing in and expressing concerns about the decision to ban the sport.

“Given the perspective offered by the province’s Medical Officer of Health, I have called on NSSAF to reinstate rugby for all high schools immediately for the duration of the season,” Churchill said.

“I have also asked the NSSAF to work with the department to assemble a panel of subject matter experts to thoroughly review and assess available research on safety in sports for school sports across Nova Scotia.”

It is unknown at this point how long it will take before students are back on the pitch.

OTHER OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE

Nathan Lake, a rugby player who got his start at age 15 at Avon View High School, is supportive of keeping rugby in the school system. Due to his involvement with rugby, he’s been to Ireland four times, travelled to France, and played coast-to-coast in Canada.

“At the end of the day, we want to see all of these kids playing again,” said Lake.

“If high school rugby is lost, then you lose the main feeder for all clubs across the province.”

Although he’s recuperating from a torn ACL, last season, Lake played with the U-19 Atlantic Rock, U-19 Canada, and the senior mens’ teams of the Nova Scotia Keltics and the Windsor Machine. He’s served as a mentor to many young players coming up through the high school system.

Evan Chambers, the president of the Windsor Hants County Rugby Football Club, also got his start playing rugby at Avon View High School.

“A lot of members today wouldn’t be playing rugby if it hadn’t been for high school,” said Chambers in a phone interview mere hours before Churchill’s announcement.

“Relationships and friendships are built on that team. There’s a place for everybody. It doesn’t matter what your athletic ability, there is a spot on a rugby team for you and a place that you will excel,” he continued.

“Rugby is a great sport because it doesn’t see any race, religion, body type.”

How the school season will shake out remains to be seen. But, Chambers said students can still stay active in the sport by becoming affiliated with one of the many local clubs in the province.

“The Dartmouth PigDogs Rugby Club is hosting a sevens tournament – it’s the Olympic style rugby; seven on seven. It’s quite fast-paced, really entertaining to watch,” said Chambers. The tournament is set for May 4 in Burnside.

The Machine are planning to bring a juniors team with them – and he hopes interested students will reach out.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids that were planning on playing with the high school teams this weekend. They’ll still get to play rugby,” said Chambers.

But that’s not the only tournament slated for this spring. The Truro-based RFC is hosting a Riverlake 10’s tournament on May 25, and there’s a Halifax 7’s tournament scheduled for June 8.

“Any high school students who wish to attend any of these tournaments with the Windsor or Valley rugby clubs will have their entry fee covered by the club and transportation can be provided for them if required,” Chambers noted.

And included with that is liability insurance.

Chambers says the Windsor Machine will be leaving for the May 4 tournament at 8 a.m. from the Spitfire Arms Pub parking lot and they’d be happy to bring along more junior players. (Contact windsormachine@gmail.com for more details.)

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