Fifteen student-athletes from Airdrie made George McDougall High School sporting history April 26, representing the Mustangs’ first-ever girls’ rugby team.
The squad made its competitive debut at a rugby 7s jamboree at Central Memorial High School in Calgary. In five fixtures, the Mustangs tied two, lost three and won one of its games.
While the Mustangs struggled at times against established teams from Calgary, Grade-11 athlete Brooke Maffitt said the performances are encouraging.
“Most of our team has not played before, so the fact we’re scoring tries and working together is a big thing,” she said. “People aren’t going down alone – there’s always someone there to support them.”
Maffitt became acquainted with the sport last year, when the Highlanders hosted introductory rugby clinics for George McDougall High School gym classes.
“I liked it last year, so I decided to go out for the [school] rugby team,” she said.
A competitive curler during the winter, Maffitt said she likes playing other sports in the offseason, and enjoys the camaraderie rugby promotes.
“It’s that team environment – you have a family and you’re always supporting each other after school,” she said. “It really creates a unity within the school.”
Considering the only other school-sports option for girls in the spring is track and field, head coach Jillian Young said, there are many benefits to offering a girls’ rugby program at George McDougall.
“For girls specifically, they don’t really have a contact-sport outlet,” she said.
“Rugby in general is an amazing, low-cost sport – all you really need is a mouth guard and cleats. It’s good for discipline, team motivation – it’s a sport like no other.”
Young, a coach and youth development co-ordinator with the Airdrie Highlanders Youth Athletics Association, said many of the program’s 22-player roster competed for the Highlanders U17 rugby team during the 2019 exhibition season last summer.
“Ms. Jackie Tobin is the teacher sponsor who agreed to set this off and launch a team at George Mac,” she said. “It’s really popular and doing well.”
Though the team officially represents George McDougall, some members come from Bert Church High School, which does not have a girls’ rugby program. One of those athletes is Grade-11 Damola Hodonu, who said she’s played with the Highlanders program for three years.
“I just really like the sport,” she said. “It gives me a release for any pent-up tension, and it’s just super fun. You have a ‘rugby family’ once you start playing, and you can never get rid of that.”
George McDougall’s ultimate goal this season, according to Hodonu, is to represent the school district at the Alberta Schools Athletic Association rugby sevens championships, which will be held June 7 in Lethbridge.
Despite the team’s inexperience, she said, qualifying for the provincial tournament is a viable goal for the Mustangs.
“We have a lot of new girls, but from what I’ve seen playing with them on the field and in practice, I think we can definitely make that,” Hodonu said.
Next up for the Mustangs will be another rugby 7s jamboree May 6, at Springbank Community High School. The team will continue to train and play in the lead-up to the Rocky View Sports Association rugby championships, which will be held June 4 at Bow Valley High School in Cochrane.