There’s a growing push to make the recent addition to the Summer Olympic Games — rugby sevens — a fully sanctioned sport in Toronto’s public schools.
The best way to illustrate the growing popularity is through the TDSSAA Rugby Sevens Championship Series tournament.
For two weeks in October, nothing but scrums and line-ins were on the tips of tongues for avid athletes from Toronto schools.
Twenty-four teams took to the fields at Don Mills Collegiate Oct. 22 to battle it out for citywide senior supremacy from schools including Forest Hill, Leaside, Malvern and Earl Haig.
Rugby sevens is your typical rugby game, but it’s played with only seven members of the team on the field, allowing for more open space to ruck and roll.
A relatively new breed of rugby to Canada, Don Mills coach Dan Kunanec wants to raise its profile with the board to help augment the traditional 15-man roster.
“Ideally at the international stage you get more of a high-bred athlete but here in high school everybody has a go,” he said. “That to me, is the bottom line of the game: to have a go.”
It’s the fifth year for the sevens tournament, and though Don Mills is considered the epicentre of a sports trend, Kunanec is modest.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, (but) I think if we hadn’t started it that many years ago, it wouldn’t be where it is now,” he said. “But it is the teamwork of everyone around us that has guaranteed its success.”
Kunanec puts to rest the myth that rugby is more aggressive than other sports played in Toronto’s public schools.
“We have far less incidents of injury in rugby than in football and hockey,” he said. “It’s flesh on flesh. There’s no equipment, so guys don’t run at you feeling like their invincible.
“It’s really important how we coach how to place a hit and take a hit,” he added. “It’s very, very informed — in fact, a football style tackle in rugby is very dangerous.”
Joining Kunanec in the push for board approval are teachers and fellow coaches Daniel Gana from Northern SS and Alf Scharlach of Leaside.
Kunanec is appreciative of the support as it is indicative of the sportsmanship involved in rugby, he said, and it shows in the kids who hit the field.
“(The kids), if it’s another sport, they’re not supposed to like each other. They’re there together, and they’re still in the middle of a tournament,” he said. “You see so much sportsmanship out here and so much camaraderie between the different teams.”
Scharlach, whose team lost 28-0 to R.H. King in one of their five round-robin games, said it’s a great team-building tool for young men.
“I think sevens lends itself well to that and to all different types of athletes,” he said. “I think it’s a great teaching and learning medium.”
The sport is growing worldwide, Kunanec, said.
“In North America, it may not be as well known, but if you look at the television stats, the three most watched events in the world are the Summer Olympics, the World Cup of Soccer and the World Cup of Rugby,” he said. “I know in North America that money drives things, but athletes around the world have chosen this game in vast numbers, for a good reason.”
By the end of the season, Kunanec and Scharlach will present a proposal to the board to get it anointed as an official TDSB sport.
With Scharlach there’s a sense of optimism it will be welcomed into athletics departments across the city.
“We’re very aware of our numbers and the amount of kids involved and we have good arguments for it,” he said. “It’s probably one of the biggest sports as it stands now.”
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