Rugby became a family affair for Larry Townsend, so it was fitting that his was on hand as he handed out his new namesake trophy.
The Larry Townsend Shield, which will be awarded annually to the winner of the regular-season matchup in girls’ rugby between the Crocus Plainsmen and Vincent Massey Vikings, was presented for the first time on Thursday to Massey after its 52-7 victory. Townsend, a born-and-raised Brandonite, came home from St. Albert, Alta., to present the trophy to Massey captain Jacquie Huntinghawk after the game.
"I was little overcome to begin with," he said of learning about the trophy. "It’s definitely an honour for me and my family."
It’s hard to overstate how much Townsend has meant to the development of girls’ rugby in the city and region.
After helping to build the powerhouse varsity girls’ program in Souris with Brian Yon in 2002 — the Sabres have won 11 of the 14 titles in the 15-year history of Westman High School Rugby and finished the regular season with a 3-2 record this year — he also started the program at Crocus Plains in 2003.
The Plainsmen were league runners-up from 2004 to 2006.
Townsend said his wife Melanie was involved in the Brandon rugby scene, daughter Kiya is a longtime Lady Barb, son Bryer played with Massey and youngest daughter Wyllow plays in St. Albert, where the family moved four years ago. The couple’s other daughter, Kynesha, is the only one who didn’t become involved.
Elton boys’ head coach Shawn Sarkonak, who just happens to be Townsend’s son-in-law, introduced him to players and fans after the game. Sarkonak said the honour is well deserved.
"We felt that with everything he did, especially in the beginning years of this with helping Brian establish the Souris Sabres girls’ program and then going on and establishing Crocus Plains, without him there would be no Crocus Plains," he said.
Naturally, family plays a role in Townsend even considering the sport.
Townsend’s father-in-law was a huge fan of the game, and Townsend eventually joined the Brandon Barbarians, winning a pair of Division 2 provincial championships.
He played for 17 years, giving up the game at age 40 because, he jokes "the recovery days were starting to run into game days."
Townsend, who worked at a manufacturing company in Brandon, began his coaching career when Kiya was in Harrison school and they needed someone to look after the basketball team. He met Yon in Souris in 2002 through the basketball team, and the two discussed setting up boys’ and girls’ rugby teams in the community.
After sign-up sheets were posted in the Souris school, Yon called him a week later.
"He said I have some good news and I have some bad news," Townsend said. "‘OK, what’s the bad news first?’ ‘We have zero boys signed up. The good news is that we have 54 girls.’"
With no rural teams to play, the girls practised and practised, while Yon and Townsend pestered Winnipeg teams to let them play in the city.
Guy McKim, who helped found the Barbarian men’s team, by that time was overseeing rugby in the city and tried to talk them out of it, suggesting that a beating wouldn’t help them.
McKim eventually relented.
"We didn’t have anyone else to play and we kept on him and on him and finally he said if you want to come into Winnipeg and get beat, fine," Townsend said. "We had 28 girls at the time and we ended up defeating the number one Winnipeg team 78-5. It’s definitely a credit to Mr. Yon, and the girls of course because they came out wanting to play and win.
"Winnipeg wasn’t prepared for a bunch of farm girls who played hockey."
In an effort to grow the sport, Townsend started a team at Crocus Plains a season later. A year after that, Nancy Pitcairn and Tracy Curtain took the sport to Massey, and the boom was on.
Minnedosa, Dauphin and Swan Valley also came on board eventually.
Townsend, who coached the Crocus girls from 2003 until 2008 and was also a part of the provincial team, is thrilled with where the six-team league now sits, and is quick to point out that Pitcairn and Yon continue to remain active in the sport.
"It’s very impressive," Townsend said of the league. "It’s nice to see that it’s still strong and still moving forward."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson