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Play Rugby in the Winter? Great Idea. Yes, Let’s!

Written By: Chris Perotte

Winter Will Not Keep Us Away 

Snow covers the ground; the air is crisp. The wind blows a blast of cold blistering breeze that sends chills all over our bodies. The temperature is minus 21 but with the wind chill it feels like minus 31. Not the kind of weather conducive to play rugby in. Or is it? 

If you are a lover of rugby and don’t want to stop playing rugby just because the winter season has arrived, then Canada Touch Rugby is the avenue for you. Canada Touch Rugby is an indoor rugby league that runs even during the coldest of days, and even when the day is minus 31 degrees (and all you can think about is staying home and staying as warm as possible). I mean, why a person would want to go out in the cold weather even if it is play some indoor rugby?

"We were at capacity and then some,” states Steve Shortly,  speaking about the first day of the 2018 indoor rugby season. “We unfortunately had to turn players and teams away, just we don’t have enough space at the moment. It was at full capacity yesterday (January 4, 2018), which was great to see.” 

The Canada Touch Rugby League Club was formed in 2011 and currently runs three leagues across the Greater Toronto Area; Burlington, Upper Canada College, and The Hanger in Downsview Park. Each league consists of 10 teams, with up to 14 players per team. If every participant shows up that would be considered full capacity, which means that on January 4, 140 enthusiastic rugby players ventured out despite the cold to play the game they have loved for years. The Upper Canada College location was where the first day of the 2018 regular season was held. 

I visited The Hanger to see firsthand the beginning of the seventh season of Canada Touch Rugby league at this location. Approximately 120 men and women came out, braving the cold weather, to represent the respective teams they play for.  Some teams consisted of an all men’s group, some teams were co-ed, and one squad featured an all women’s line-up, calling themselves 'The Cheeky Chicks'. 

“Myself and another lady, Nat BenDaviad from a different team (Aurora Barbarians Rugby Football Club) that we usually play for in the summer, wanted to make an all-girls team to compete against the guys because this [league] was exclusively male’s touch only league for awhile and then they opened it up to the women,” explains Kat Santilly, who plays for the Toronto Saracens Rugby Football Club in the summer. “We didn’want to set up a co-ed which is just one or two girls per team, we wanted to make a full women’s only but competitive team.” 

Maintaining the Skill Level during the Winter 

The Cheeky Chicks have been part of the Canada Touch Rugby League since 2013. As a team they value the importance of this league and how it helps in the continual development of a rugby player.  

“The reason we like touch is because it does give us a chance to work on our fitness and our ball handling skills which  translates into the summer months,” says Santilly. “Last year the Toronto Saracens won the league and the cup.”  

The Cheeky Chicks have a lot of members who are also part of the Toronto Saracens in the summer.  Thanks to the winter league, they are able to maintain their skill levels, which helps achieve championship standings for their summer club. The Cheeky Chicks also surprise a lot of the men in this league, due to their competitive approach to each and every game. They started off the 2018 season with a victory over the Markham Irish. 

Talking with fellow rugby players in this league, keeping fit is one of the main reasons they continue to play in the winter. 

“With rugby or with any sport, if you aren’t using the skills that you need on a weekly basis, you lose them pretty quickly,” explains Shortly. “I remember not playing touch rugby and just primarily working out in the off-season, which is fine, but being able to maintain your speed and your agility with your hand-eye coordination and your hand-set skills is pretty important." 

Shortly continues, “when you step into your regular season, you don’t really lose much of it. That’s the first thing I kind of noticed after I’d been doing it for a couple of years, I didn’t really lose any of those hand skills which is the big thing. That’s very important.” 

Adam Mirra, who plays rugby in the summer for the Vaughan Yeomen, also shared why he continues to play rugby in the winter with this Canada Touch Rugby league. 

“Its fun, it keeps you going. You learn some skills, keep your ball handling skills up. More importantly, as you get older keep your fitness up which is good," says Mirra, who has been playing rugby for the past 21 years. 

No matter what the weather is like outside, even if it is minus 31 degrees, Adam Mirra is dedicated to playing the sport he loves. 

“Absolutely! I just want to play all day long,” smiles Mirra. 

Rugby however, brings more than just fitness to the individuals that participate in this great sport, it creates something special both on and off the field. Krista Kent, who plays for the Untouchables in this league, reminisces about her first few years of experience in high school with the game of rugby. 

“I love just not the sport but the comradery, the social aspect of it,” says Kent. “Bringing you all together, 15 as one on the field. I’ve never experienced anything like that. I was never into sports before and it's just amazing.

“No other sport is like that where you go out with your opponents after [the game] and you buy them a drink and you do the whole chug off thing. No other sport does that. It’s really cool to just leave everything on the field and then go party with your opponents after.” 

Etienne Roberts, who plays for the Markham Irish, came off the pitch after his team played against the Cheeky Chicks and shared what it was like to compete with his teammates in this Canada Touch Rugby league: 

“It was very, very positive due to the fact that we have access to play year-round. So it’s a very positive outlook on the development of the game in this province and this country because we really need it right now,” emphasizes Roberts. 

“It was a very positive game, especially the fact that we’re able to play with both boys and girls. It just shows the equality in not only the game but in life in general.” 

Rugby: A Reflection of Life 

The game of rugby is truly a small sampling of life. If you could have seen through my eyes as I stood on the sidelines in The Hanger at the Downsview Park, you would have seen many participants that come to play and to watch, to keep fit, to maintain their skills, and to have fun. Groups of individuals; friends gathering together to share a laugh, a story. I even saw a mother on the sidelines ready to play and support her teammates – she was holding her one of her three-and-a-half-month twin girls as her husband held the other. For Karla Telidetzki, who plays for the Cheeky Chicks, it was about passing down the love of rugby to her girls Isla and Nora as it was passed downed to her by her parents. 

“I grew up with it. My dad played and mom played so I’ve been on the side of the field since I was a kid,” reflected Telidetzki. “I’m carrying the tradition on. We will see if they like it, but if they do, they’ll be playing rugby too.” 

“My dad (Gerald Telidetzki) played club rugby in Edmonton, Alberta for the [Strathcona] Druidsand my mom (Judy Seddon) played for one of the first women’s teams in Edmonton, called The Coven. She was a part of that initial surge of women’s rugby in Alberta.” 

Playing in this league for Telidetzki is also about keeping fit, especially after giving birth to twins. Her goal is play rugby in the summer, so participating in this winter league is a great way to obtain her goals. 

And like the other rugby players that came out for the season opener in The Hanger, the cold winter conditions didn’t’ stop her from coming out. 

Oh yeah, it's indoors! I played rugby in the snow outdoors before (in Alberta), so this is nothing!” exclaims Telidetzki. 

Now, there is an example of the love for rugby.  

If you love the game of rugby and would like to be a part of one of the three great leagues across the Greater Toronto Area, to stay fit, make new friends, and to have fun, visit and see why rugby is one of the greatest sports on Earth.