Tansor Elementary School students go through rugby drills under the watch of MacDowell Rugby assistants Justin Marinier and Cullen Plester. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Tansor Elementary School students go through rugby drills under the watch of MacDowell Rugby assistants Justin Marinier and Cullen Plester. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Grassroots rugby continues to grow in Cowichan Valley

MacDowell Academy and elementary school visits keep sport on upward trajectory

It was a busy spring and early summer for Robin MacDowell as he continued to promote rugby in Cowichan Valley elementary schools while building toward the opening of the rugby academy he is opening in partnership with the Cowichan Valley School District this fall.

MacDowell spent a week each at local elementary schools, introducing hundreds of students to the sport, as many as 10 or 11 classes a day, from kindergarten to Grade 7. He started at Bench, where his sister Venessa is the vice-principal, but once word got out, he ended up conducting similar sessions at Chemainus and Tansor as well. The talent level at all the schools impressed the well-travelled coach.

“It never ceases to amaze me how many talented raw athletes there are in the Cowichan Valley,” he said.

Recent high school graduates like Cullen Plester and Justin Marinier were along to assist MacDowell, making his job easier in a lot of respects.

“There’s nothing cooler than these teenagers so it’s a win-win,” MacDowell said.

The visits to the elementary schools were mostly about encouraging interest in rugby, specifically the junior programs at the Cowichan Rugby Football Club, which is doing a post-COVID launch this fall.

“Building the base here is No. 1 with these kids,” MacDowell explained.

He wasn’t surprised by the enthusiastic response from the students, who have been without many of their usual activities for more than 12 months.

“After a year of COVID, don’t think these kids have needed sports more,” he said.

Momentum continues to build for the MacDowell Rugby Academy at Cowichan Secondary, with what MacDowell describes as an “overwhelming response and commitment” from athletes across the Cowichan Valley and Canada, with some international students as well.

A second group was opened up with an extended deadline, so more spaces are available for registration. Students don’t need previous rugby experience to sign up, either. MacDowell didn’t get into rugby until high school, and neither did Plester or Marinier, who are on track to go places in the sport.

“It doesn’t matter what sport you’ve played,” the coach said. “Just train and have fun with us every day as part of the curriculum.”

For more information about registration for the MacDowell Rugby Academy, email robin@ macdowellrugby.ca

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