Brooklyn Peyton, who has aspirations to play at the university and national level, says the removal of rugby by the NSSAF as of May 2 has left her devastated.”It’s very disappointing,” said Peyton, of Waverley, on her reaction to the news. She has grasped onto the sport since taking it up a year-plus ago. (Healey photo)

NSSAF cites safety, insurance as to why they pulled the sport mid-season

BEDFORD: The education minister has ordered the NSSAF reinstate the sport of rugby; however as of Monday May 5, the NSSAF Board of Governors says the issue remains unresolved, and thus rugby remains a “non-sport.”

In the release on May 3 Zach Churchill, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development said the decision the NSSAF made to abruptly end high school rugby, the NSSAF contravened the terms and conditions of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in that it neglected to inform the department of its intent to communicate it’s decision on May 2, 2019., and furthermore, made the decision without appropriate consultation with school communities.

“Further, the provincial Medical Officer of Health, along with other respected physicians, have expressed strong concerns about the decision, and they’ve cited Canada-wide data,” said Churchill. “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 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.

In a memodated May 5, the NSSAF said the issue remained unresolved.

“Any school playing rugby, like any other non-NSSSAF sport, is at the discretion of the principal,” the memo said. “The NSSAF will provide updated information as available.”

Reports indicated that the NSSAF and Department of Education are currently in meetings. Rugby N.S. tweeted they had not been informed of this, and only heard it again third hand.

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Rugby players across metro HRM and the province are disappointed and heartbroken, along with feeling blindsided by a decision by the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF) to can the sport.

The players—close to 100 from high schools in Metro Halifax and HERH in Milford—gathered inside Ice Patch Hallow in the Sunnyside Mall in Bedford in a quickly arranged rally on May 2, with a goal of sending a clear message to the NSSAF that they were not happy. That was clear as the players chanted “Let us play! Let us play!”

Lockview High player Brooklyn Peyton, who has aspirations to play at the university and national level, says the removal of a sport she took up just a year and a bit ago has left her devastated.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Peyton, of Waverley, on her reaction to the news. “Rugby is my life. It’s really changed my life, and they’re taking family away from me.”

Members of the Millwood High Knights girls rugby team were one of the early arrivals at the rugby rally. The girls had messages of “Let Us Play” written on their face before the rally inside Ice Patch Hallow in Bedford. (Healey photo)

Abby Tramble, of Fall River, said it’s frustrating.

“Some of the girls are just getting into it and they’re having so much fun,” said Tramble. “It’s heartbreaking hearing this news. It’s not what any of us expected.”

In an internal memo, obtained by Global Halifax, the NSSAF, the governing body for high school athletics, said they came to the decision after a “thorough review of incident report data provided by the School Insurance Program.” In that data it showed that there have been 158 insurance claims as a result of soccer; 162 insurance claims as a result of football; 187 claimed as a result of hockey; and 454 claims under rugby.

In an interview with CBC N.S., Stephen Gallant, the federation’s executive director, said the decision was made at the organization’s first board meeting of the year. He said the reason had to do with the number of injuries being sustained by rugby players.

“This was not a knee-jerk reaction today. This has been an ongoing discussion for the board after last May,” said Gallant.

The incident Gallant refers to from May 2018 saw a PEI student die after suffering a head injury during a school rugby game at a tournament.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston called on the NSSAF to reinstate high school rugby.

“Rugby has been such a good thing for so many students who made the decision to play,” says Houston. “Like many sports, it’s an activity that instills positive self-esteem and team work.”

Houston says the announcement was shortsighted and, if anything, should have come with adequate notice, not part way through the season.

“Students who chose this sport and have flourished because of it are now left with nothing to do,” he said in a May 3 release.

“This has been ripped away from them abruptly and without warning,” says Houston.

Houston noted women’s rugby is the fastest growing sport in Canada and this decision will have a disproportionate impact on female athletes.

Savannah Wheatley of the Lockview Dragons girls rugby team smiles as the face-painter finishes up the “Let Us Play” message on her face at the rugby rally, which was quickly organized following the NSSAF’s decision to remove the high school sport. (Healey photo)

However, many gathered in Bedford did term the removal as a knee-jerk reaction by the NSSAF in interviews.

Lockview’s Caitlyn Gannon said many of the players don’t understand why the NSSAF made their decision, considering other sports have more serious injuries.

“We could be looking at solutions to safety instead of just getting rid of the sport,” said Gannon, of Fall River. “There are things that could be done to make it more safe as far as regulations, then taking it away.”

Lydia Ramsay said the NSSAF should have thought of modifying the rules before jumping to a conclusion that canning the sport altogether was the only option.

“It’s not fair for us girls who have worked so hard, our coaches, and for the teams at the top that could make provincials, them taking it away it’s just horrible,” said the Oakfield resident.

For Peyton, she is training to play at a higher level, and without high school it means one less option to help her improve her game.

“Lockview was what got me into liking rugby,” she said. “It’s a gateway to get into professional rugby. Now we don’t have that opportunity.”

Parent Nathalie Wheatley, whose daughter Savannah plays with LHS, works in healthcare. She was shocked at the news.

“I think for all the boys and girls in the high school league they weren’t given an opportunity to discuss this … to come up with a better solution than just removing the sport of rugby,” she said.

She’s worried that the NSSAF move will set a precedent and other contact sports, like football and hockey won’t be safe from being cut either.

In separate releases, Rugby N.S. and Rugby Canada deemed the news of the sport’s removal a “disappointment.”

“We must find a solution to ensure that young sport and rugby enthusiasts in N.S. can continue to play and compete in the sport of rugby,” Rugby Canada’s Director of rugby development Paul Hunter said in the release issued late on May 2.

HERH Tigers Raymond Hazell and Marcus Oldreive both said the news upset them.

“It kind of blindsided us,” said Hazell of Elmsdale. “We had no idea there was even talk of this happening.

“We’re all just really upset about it and kind of angry at the same time.”

Oldreive, who calls Lantz home, said the team was getting pumped for their game. Rugby was the only sport he played.

“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I made a lot of friends with the Tigers.”

Hazell said the NSSAF should have discussed their decision with those impacted before making it.

“We know when we step on the field the consequences that the game can bring,” he said. “We’re fully aware of what can go on, but we still get on the field; we still love the game; we still enjoy ourselves while doing it.

“We all feel like their doing for them and not us.”

In his grade 12 year, it’s not the ending to Hazell’s high school rugby career he envisioned.

“I felt like I was robbed of my final year of the sport I love,” said Hazell.

A protest was scheduled for May 3 outside NSSAF offices at 4 p.m.

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Pat has grown up in East Hants, having called Milford, and now Enfield home. He graduated from the journalism program at Holland College in 2001, and has spent time at newspapers in NL and Alberton and Summerside, PEI before becoming a reporter/photographer at The Weekly Press/The Laker in October 2008. He has a rescue kitty named Asha that is much loved—and spoiled. Pat is also our "social engagement guru." Check him out on twitter!