“Rugby has always been more of an obscure sport in Calgary,” says Brent Gough, a rugby coach with Henry Wise Wood High School. “It’s very popular with those in the rugby community but under the radar for most Calgarians.”
Despite that Gough says that the sport has “grown greatly” over the past 15 years, both at the club and high school level. The Alberta Schools Athletic Association adopted rugby as a sanctioned sport eight years ago. Four years ago, the Calgary Senior High School Athletic Association created the Rugby Selects game — a north vs. south Calgary match that brings the best players from 23 high schools together to end the rugby season. Separate Selects games are held for male and female players.
Gough, who coached the North team during the boys’ game, says that the Rugby Selects game is his “favourite” high school rugby event of the year. “It caps a busy season of intense competition and, in and of itself, is a celebration of the elite athletes from every program, Gough says. “Most of all, it gives the athletes a sense of what playing rugby surrounded by high-calibre players feels like.
For many the Rugby Selects game marks the end of their high school athletic careers. Walker Rice, a Grade 12 student from Henry Wise Wood, says the game meant a lot to him. “It was fun to be out there and not playing for any titles or medals or trophies — it lets you get back to the basics of the sports and play with some of the top players in Calgary,” Rice says. “It was a great way to go out.”