BOW VALLEY – The Bears are awake and ready to take a bite out of the competition.
After two seasons away from the pitch, the Banff Bears Rugby Club (BRC) returns in a big way with a men’s team that’s ready to roll, a returning junior program, and a partnership that will see women back on the field in 2022.
“We have a lot of Banff-born and raised players who are returning to the club this year, so we expect to be fielding a very competitive squad,” said Oli McKay, president and player of BRC and coach for the girls' high school team.
“We’ve been doing off-season training with Summit CrossFit for the last eight weeks and we’ve had about … 15 guys training on a consistent basis, which is huge for us.”
Traditionally, the mountain town club fields an exceptionally strong and talented team in the Calgary Rugby Union and expectations are high for the team's return in 2022.
Although, with BRC's inactivity from competition since 2019 due to the pandemic, the club is looking for men, women, and youth interested in joining. Experience isn’t necessary.
“Everybody is welcome,” said McKay. “A key part is on Wednesdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m. [at Banff Community High School] we will be playing just touch rugby. If people want to come and have a run, they’re more than welcome to come down and get a feel for the game and get a feel for the group and see if they’d like to be involved in it.”
For women wanting to play, BRC is partnering with the Bow Valley Grizzlies to form a team under the Cochrane squad’s banner.
Women’s practices will be in Cochrane every other Wednesday and in Banff with the men’s squad other weeks.
“Cochrane is low on women’s numbers and we don’t have the infrastructure in place to get a women’s team started,” said McKay. “We have a good, strong relationship with their program … it was a natural fit for us to link up with them and maximize the opportunities for the growth of the sport in the Bow Valley.”
A new tradition will start this season on the men's side between the Banff and Cochrane men’s clubs competing for a yet-to-be-named trophy each season.
The teams play twice in the Calgary Rugby Union and if it's tied at the end of the season, a friendly third match will determine which team wins the cup.
The two clubs kick off the season against each other on May 28 in Cochrane.
The men’s home opener is June 4 against the Red Deer Titans at Banff Recreation Grounds.
For the Banff Bears junior program (11-14+), which started last season, it will run Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings starting June 4.
“We’re looking at bringing in some exhibition games to coincide with the senior games for the younger players to get out and have a run,” McKay said.
The local rugby club has a 45-year history in the Bow Valley. Over the decades, the club has won championships and influenced high schoolers in town to become one of the strongest rugby schools in the province.
The high school programs have even produced some notable national level talent including Holly Phillips, a physical loosehead prop playing for the Bristol Bears of the Allainz Premier 15s, and Krissy Scurfield, a fast-footed member of Rugby Canada's Sevens squad.