This story will also be published in the Spring 2023 issue of Total Sports Quinte magazine
With a neverending drive to grow the game, the Belleville Bulldogs welcome everyone to give rugby a try.
Anyone interested in playing, whether that’s youth or adults, is encouraged to contact the club. There’s no official end to registration, though teams would require players to be signed up before their first league game.
“We really don’t want to turn anyone away,” said Bulldogs’ Director of Rugby Jo Robinson. “I know it’s growing, but it’s not a mainstream sport.”
There have been challenges in recent years and some teams have taken a hit more than others. Numbers are great on the women’s side at the junior and senior levels and the youth flag rugby program remains strong as well.
The men’s side has been challenged as the Belleville club was unable to field U18 and senior teams in 2022 due to insufficient numbers.
Robinson said that’s not limited to the club level, but saw fewer teams than usual last year in the high school ranks as well. The upcoming boys rugby season looks more promising for both school and club rugby, she predicted.
Early registrations showed the mens’ team to be making a return to action this season and the outlook was good for the U18 boys Bulldogs to make a comeback as well.
“We had a really strong U16 boys team last year,” Robinson said of the 2022 Toronto Rugby Union champs, adding some of those players could move up.
“A lot of the boys are keen to continue to play and we’ve got some coaches in place which really helps,” she remarked.
Robinson reiterated the importance of expressing interest in playing as soon as possible as players are welcome to join the teams. In fact, there were so many U16 girls last year that two teams were fielded to compete.
“I think a lot of parents and athletes think that there’s cuts, but being one of the most inclusive sports out there we’re just trying to grow the game,” Robinson said.
In late March, the Bulldogs held an indoor rugby session at the Loyalist Dome for junior boys from U14 to U18. Led by Pieter Kort along with guest players and coaches, the event attracted 50 players.
This Saturday, April 29 is another big opportunity to learn the sport as the Bulldogs host a free Try Rugby Day, also at the Loyalist Dome. The times are 1-2 p.m. for U4 to U12 players, 2-3 p.m. for U14 to U18 boys and 3-4 p.m. for U14 to U18 girls
The very youngest age groups can expect a basic introduction to the sport while older players will focus on key fundamentals like ball handling and decision-making. There is little or no contact for these sessions.
Another key focus: fun.
“That’s the main goal,” Robinson said.
Don’t let cost be a deterrent either. The club supports players with financial restrictions. Club members have been helping cover registration fees for players and anyone can donate to ‘Support a Bulldog’ on the club’s website.
“There’s lots of retired players or adults out there who really want to get youth playing so that’s all that program is – pick an amount you want to donate and we’ll make sure it goes towards funding a youth player in need.
“We did a lot of recruiting last year and we funded a few U16 boys because we really wanted to make sure we had a U16 boys team,” Robinson added, noting the importance of developing players to move up to the older age groups.
Robinson said the club is looking forward to the return of the senior men’s team, which will boost the overall atmosphere.
“We’ve got lots of guys coming out of the woodwork from years previous to really make it happen,” she said. “We did miss it without the men.”
That’s because of the social aspect of the sport, with Bulldogs’ teams supporting each other. Even opponents come together as well. Junior teams exchange player of the game honours while older teams get together off the pitch as well.
“There’s not many other sports where you go out and pound each other for an hour or 80 minutes, tackle each other and then go out,” Robinson said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie through the entire rugby community. In the senior leagues you go out and do the post social where you go to the pub and buy your opposite a drink or something. There’s just a lot of camaraderie and respect.”
Rugby is for everyone, Robinson said, regardless of size and experience.
“We do encourage people who don’t have any experience to come out and give it a try.. We just want to grow the game within our area.”
Check out the Belleville Bulldogs at bulldogsrugby.com