Whalen Dahlke runs with the ball as the new Elton Sabres boys’ rugby team practises on Monday at John Reilly Field.
(COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Brett Zilinski runs past coach Shawn Sarkonak during the Sabres’ practice. Elton will make its debut today against the Minnedosa Chancellors.
(COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
The hard work of three students at Elton Collegiate will pay off today.
After spending a few years in Brandon’s youth rugby league, Dallas Loewen, Blake Fleury and James Reid approached the school’s administration about adding a rugby team. Jane Alex, who didn’t know much about rugby, agreed to become the teacher liaison and the three boys started recruiting players.
Shawn Sarkonak, who coached the Crocus Plains boys’ team last year, caught wind of the situation and decided to join on as coach and today the Elton Sabres boys’ rugby team will make its debut in the Westman High School Rugby League by hosting the Minnedosa Chancellors at John Reilly Field at 5:30 p.m.
It took a lot of work to get a team ready to play, and the players are anxious to take the pitch for the first time.
"They’re wanting to see what the game is like," Sarkonak said. "We’ve had three guys play the youth rugby, but it’s been very limited capacity. They’ve done the contact portion of it, but there’s no actual contesting of the scrums or lineouts or anything like that, so they have the basic knowledge of the game, but for everybody else, they haven’t seen anything. Getting on to the field and seeing how it all comes together and understanding what we’re doing in practice will be the key for them.
"I’ve been preaching for them the last few weeks that you won’t fully understand what we’re doing here until you actually get out onto the field and play that first game."
While the team is excited for its first game, the expectations aren’t very high. Loewen, Fleury and Reid are the only three with experience on a squad that is largely made up of students in Grade 9, 10 and 11. Only one player will graduate this season. They also hope to have a full 15 for the opener, as 14 had fully committed with a couple debating whether to sign up for the season.
That doesn’t bother Sarkonak, who is happy to see a new school join the league and was more than willing to help build the program’s foundation since he believed the Plainsmen were in good hands with Sean Erickson taking over as head coach. Instead, Sarkonak wants his players to focus on having fun and learning the game this season.
"I’m a coach that wants to see the guys have fun out there, learn the sport and then basically start with scoring a try and then getting a win under their belts," he said. "If they can do that this year, then we’ve made it a successful season.
"First and foremost, if they have fun that’s the primary focus of it. Even if we go winless throughout the season, as long as the kids have fun and learn something out there, then it’s a success."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 22, 2014