Inspiring younger generations is crucial in maintaining participation rates within minor sports, and the Airdrie Highlanders are looking to do just that.
After a successful spring season, the local youth rugby club is offering a shortened fall season for new and returning players. Practices are set to kick of Aug. 29 at the field behind George McDougall High School.
Director of the Airdrie Highlanders Youth Athletic Association, Jillian Young, said she loves seeing kids fall in love with the sport of rugby, and that inspiration keeps her motivated in growing the game with younger generations.
“I call it the rugby bug. When I see that bug get into other kids or parents, or see that spark, I love it,” she said. “It's why I continue to do it and work at this club and fix up our website and attend all these meetings and get things together.”
According to World Rugby, the sport originated in 1823 during a game of soccer in the town of Rugby, England. One of the athletes picked up the ball and began running towards his opponent’s goal line.
Young said the game has taken off in North America and is a sport that every person, regardless of size, can participate in.
Young has had the opportunity to play rugby across the globe and said the sport has provided her with some of the most meaningful experiences of her life.
“Rugby is a sport like no other,” Young said.
The Highlanders’ spring season saw 56 children register in the program, ranging in age from five to 13. Young said a major highlight of the season was taking part in the Francis Cup Jamboree, which honours Kyle Francis, an adult male player who passed away. Young said the Francis Cup will become an annual event.
In a press release, Young said she was proud of the athletes she coached during the spring season. She said they had a great time coming together as a team and learning the sport’s fundamentals.
“I coached the U11/13s in the spring, and I was proud of how quickly they learned the sport and the drive they had to keep growing as players,” she said. “But what struck me the most is all the smiles and laughs we had. They really were having fun.”
The upcoming fall season will be for children ages seven to 13, with an introduction to controlled tackling for athletes ages 10 to 13. Young said the fall season is a five-week program with practices mostly on Tuesdays, but that there will be sessions on Thursdays during the first three weeks. She added they will also have practices every Saturday at the Calgary Rugby Union.
Registration for the fall season is currently open and can be done through the Highlanders’ website at airdriehighlanders.ca. Young said the fall season is free for those returning from the spring season, but brand new players are required to pay a $100 registration fee.