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Highlanders rugby player moves into coaching

By: Lucas Punkari

  |  Posted: Thursday, Aug 14, 2014 11:28 am

Mark Jackson, left, gave tips from the sidelines along with Airdrie Highlanders player David Heizer during a game against the Calgary Canucks at George McDougall High School in Airdrie on August 9.
Mark Jackson, left, gave tips from the sidelines along with Airdrie Highlanders player David Heizer during a game against the Calgary Canucks at George McDougall High School in Airdrie on August 9.
Lucas Punkari/Rocky View Publishing

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With personal commitments keeping him from playing rugby on a full-time basis this year, Mark Jackson has kept involved with the Airdrie Highlanders in a different role.

Jackson, 34, who moved to Airdrie from Calgary last year, has been helping the rookie team get better each week by coaching practices and also working on the sidelines during games.

“I started playing rugby in my hometown of Leeds in England when I was five and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve always wanted to help out players along the way,” Jackson said. “This year, I’ve been doing a lot more work in the practices for the male and female teams, along with being on the sidelines and giving them advice during the games.”

“It’s a really enjoyable thing for me to do, especially with the guys getting better and better each week and the girls having their first game here in Airdrie this week (at George McDougall High School on Aug. 15),” he added.

“Many of these players have never played rugby before, so to see them learn the game from the ground up has been great.”

Jackson, who previously played for the Calgary Saints rugby team, has watched first-hand how the men’s club team has faired throughout the Calgary Rugby Union (CRU) season, as the Highlanders have a 2-9 record after its 55-7 loss to the Calgary Canucks on Aug. 9.

“The Canucks are a strong team and things didn’t go our way, but the guys have been very competitive all year,” Jackson said. “We have two games left before the year comes to an end, and I think if we are competitive in Banff (on Aug. 23) and in our last home game (against the Calgary Knights on Sept. 6), we can come away with wins.”

“Whether they win or lose, the guys have always enjoyed themselves, and they keep coming back to get better,” he added.

Looking towards the future, Jackson hopes to mix in a bit of time on the field in addition to his coaching duties next season, along with helping rugby grow in Airdrie.

“The community has grown tenfold over the last few years, and as a sport, rugby is a new thing for people to be a part of,” Jackson said.

“There’s been a lot more people coming to our games and asking what the sport is about, and I think you may see that around Canada with our women’s team making the semi-finals at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France this year.”

“Also, I think it’s a sport for those that need something to do in the summer or those looking to get back into a team game,” he added.

“I know that for a lot of guys who play football, there’s nothing for them to do after they graduate from high school, and there’s something for them to do with rugby now here in Airdrie.”


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