Rugby trip a first in Tweedsmuir's 101-year history
Twenty four very excited athletes from Lord Tweedmuir Secondary boarded a school bus bound for the Vancouver Airport last week, where they were poised to lift off on the rugby road trip of a lifetime.
The senior boys rugby team is spending Spring Break in Australia and New Zealand – half a world away from Cloverdale, but the centre of the universe when it comes to rugby, now Lord Tweedsmuir’s largest school sport.
The two-week trip is the culmination of nearly two years’ work, and represents the realization of a vision hatched by head coach Walter van Halst when first he came to Lord Tweedsmuir five years ago from Clayton Heights Secondary.
“The boys are extremely excited,” van Halst said, just moments before the bus pulled out of the school parking lot March 13.
To van Halst, a social studies teacher and senior boys rugby coach, the trip is a way of giving back to his hometown. He was fortunate enough to go to New Zealand and Australia as a player with Shawnigan Lake School in 1984.
“This is my chance to give the kids of Cloverdale the opportunity that I had,” he said.
The trip – the most ambitious sports trip in the school’s 101-year-history – will be action-packed, an athletic and cultural journey.
They’re meeting several members of the legendary New Zealand All Blacks in Hamilton, NZ, after attending a “Captains Run” held by Super 15 professional champions, the Waikato Chiefs.
In Auckland, the Panthers will tour Eden Park, the home stadium of the All Blacks. It’s also where the team won the world cup in late 2011.
The Panthers are playing four matches against teams at their own age level. But sport is only one aspect of the trip.
The players will tour scenic countryside in both nations, taking in the famous Bondi and Manley beaches of Australia, along with landmarks like the Sydney Opera House, plus an excursion to the Blue Mountains, spiritually important to the Aborigine people.
Assistant coaches Russ Baker and Dennis Quigley – who’s marking his 40th year as a high school coach – are accompanying the team as well.
Baker, an aboriginal support worker, is the inspiration and creative force behind some special gifts the team will be giving out along the way in New Zealand.
At a traditional Maori “hangi” feast in Rotorua, the team will present a drum made by four players who are First Nations students. Drums will also be presented to each team the Panthers play.
“The rugby tradition is all about giving back,” van Halst said, explaining players from opposing teams are expected to show respect and friendship off the field.
That tradition will extend to their host families, who will each receive gifts from the Cloverdale boys as a show of friendship and appreciation.
“We’ll be billeted out in three places, staying with families of the opposing players,” van Halst said.
He’s proud to point out that Lord Tweedsmuir is the first school in the Surrey district – apart from the affluent South Surrey area – to tour either New Zealand or Australia.
The team fundraised more than half of the $100,000 cost of the trip, which works out to just over $4,000 per player.
The players had to work for their own funds. Sometimes that meant sacrificing holiday time for bottle drives.
“We had kids picking up bottles on New Years’ Day,” smiled van Halst. “I’m a big believer that if kids work for something, they’re going to appreciate it more.”
Several players also overcame personal tragedy and financial hardship in the last few years, so for van Halst, it’s gratifying to see them to have come such a long way.
He thanked the people of Cloverdale for supporting the team’s fundraising efforts at pub nights, and through donations.
He praised school principal Allan Buggie and vice principal Sukh Rai for being “absolutely, 100 per cent supportive.”
He also expressed deep gratitude to the Surrey Beavers rugby team, who have been “absolutely tremendous.”
“I always hoped and dreamed one day I could do this,” van Halst said. “To do it in a public school environment, especially in Cloverdale, it’s a lot harder.”
But somehow, it’s not a surprise that Cloverdale came through for the team.
“In Cloverdale, we’re blessed. We have a nice community.”
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