By Lucas Bloess
The pandemic has caused an upheaval in every aspect of society. Businesses, workplaces and social gatherings have all been turned on their head over the past year. Local sporting organizations are no exception.
With the onset of COVID-19 last winter, local sports have been forced to take a bit of a pause – hockey, little-league baseball, even tennis all had to stop until it was safe to return to play. Some local sports, such as tennis at the St. James Tennis Club, were able to start up again with relative ease. Other sports, such as the Glebe Little League, opted not to run at all last summer.
Few may know this, but the Glebe is home to the city’s largest (and founding) men’s and women’s rugby teams. The Ottawa Beavers and Banshees Rugby Football Club normally trains out of Glebe Collegiate through the summer, but it had to suspend operations last year like all other team sports.
As an intensively contact sport with as many as 15 players on each side of the field, the sport has many unique challenges to overcome in order to resume in a safe manner.
The rugby club has been hit hard, but thankfully the strength of the local community has helped the club get through the past year. Local sponsors like McKeen Metro Glebe and Councillor Shawn Menard have provided the Beavers and Banshees with financial support to cover some of the club’s fixed costs through the interruptions of 2020.
Many plans had to be scrapped during the past year. The Beavers and Banshees were scheduled to host a rugby-themed day camp with the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group last July and a skills series at TD Place with the Aces, Ottawa’s new professional rugby team. Unfortunately, both had to be cancelled along with the club’s entire regular-season rugby programming.
Thankfully, Rugby Ontario, the sport’s provincial governing body, has since stepped in with a five-phase framework for players to begin engaging in rugby activities again. The framework is scaled according to varying public health restrictions.
“We are clearly not going to see the same level of intensive contact we used to,” said Andrew Fawcett, the club vice-president of development and COVID-19 safety officer, “but with any luck we will be back to doing some modified practice sessions by the end of May.”
Return-to-play plans will include a several changes to maintain a safe environment. Rather than focusing on the tackles, lineouts and rucks that the game is best known for, Fawcett says they will focus more on ball-handling skills and fitness. Depending on the COVID situation, some flag rugby games may be allowed as an intermediary step to getting back to normal. Other safety protocols will also be in place, such as attestation forms, attendance tracking and limits on the size and length of training sessions.
In the coming months, a strong recovery will rely on adapting and playing to the sport’s strengths – and its biggest strength right now is that rugby is an outdoor sport with different elements that allow many options to have fun playing without violating social-distancing guidelines.
The Ottawa Aces are also hoping to start up over the summer, and this exposure will certainly help stimulate a newfound interest in the sport as the Beavers and Banshees rebuild their programming. A surge in recruitment was last seen when the women’s national team won the Olympic bronze in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, so the introduction of the Aces will be a huge boost right when the sport needs it most.
The Ottawa Beavers and Banshees Rugby Club is set to return to training at Glebe Collegiate on Tuesday and Thursday evenings starting in late May (COVID restrictions pending, of course). Training will be offered for both senior men and women, as well as junior boys and girls 13 and older.
Lucas Bloess is the president of the Ottawa Beavers and Banshees Rugby Football Club and proudly calls the Glebe home for himself and his young family.