What makes a great rugby community? Is it something that comes with great talent, or is it the location? Perhaps, a great social scene is the answer. Personally, I would argue that what makes a great rugby community are the people who have been entrusted with its enrichment. Take our own community for instance, the Burlington Centaurs Rugby Club. Though we may not be as long in the tooth as some other rugby clubs in Ontario we have a reputation and are oft-talked about in the larger community. How did we do that, you might ask? A magic trick? No. Simply put, we just have the right people.
This month I had the great pleasure and opportunity to sit down with Bill and Blake Clayton. Bill, who has been playing at the highest levels of club rugby for over two decades and who has been instrumental in developing the juniors program, particularly the u15 and u19 programs. Blake is a senior in high school and has been playing for the Burlington Centaurs since u9’s, which, for him was a big disappointment because it was simply flag and not full contact.
Already the stage is set. Two gentlemen, one who has been a bastion for the Centaurs for many years, and the other a young athletic player who has all the tools for greatness in the sport of rugby. However, it would be too simple to leave it at that. Upon further inspection, Bill and Blake represent the best of what the Club is and what it could be.
Starting first with what the Club is, it is important to look back at where it came from. Bill began his rugby career with the Centaurs hitching a ride outside White Oaks high school with legendary rugby coach and player Kent Burns to Ottawa to fill in for a lock gone errant. In rugby terms, Bill had hit the ground running; travelling across the province to start with the Men’s 1st team for playoffs no less. From then and there Bill was a Centaur and became a fixture on the team.
With a start like that it is no surprise to hear Bill mention “espirit de corps” as an important factor in what sets great rugby communities apart from those lacking. Interestingly, absent are the stories of the glory days, in their place, a recurrent theme with Bill: Responsibility. Echoing the words of the late Centaur legend Cye Beechy, “Club First.” Many could learn from Bill the simple things that make this sport so difficult: “Take pride in the role you are supposed to play; take ownership of the role you play now; take responsibility for the role you did play… [t]hey call you a pack for a reason.”
The future of the Club is much harder to predict. With a dwindling supply of young people from high schools and the watering down of contact sports has led to a shortage of young players for many clubs. That being said, in lean times those with the determination to continue in this sport shine. In particular, Blake Clayton who has represented the club since u9’s. First impressions of young Master Blake indicate a humble and quiet confidence, however, upon further investigation it is revealed that this is no persona, but the reality of a competent rugby player who has put in the time.
On a related note, some historians will say that the British beating the French in the Peninsular War was a fluke, or simple luck of timing. However, a smaller and perhaps more informed group know the real truth to it: The British infantry trained with live ammunition and the French did not. By parallel, Blake is putting the work in at the Club; training, playing, and observing resulting in a product that is the real McCoy.
One subject that was illuminated by Blake was Rugby Ontario’s decision to shift to a ‘hub’ system and charging prospective players a paltry $2500. In a country whose rugby standings have been rapidly dropping it is perhaps unwise to institute a pay-to-play system; however, these are just the musings of an armchair rugby player.
In Blake’s case the cream rises to the top. Going the hard way, through the club system has its benefits in the comradeship and the pure volume of games one must play in their club career. Blake’s training with the Centaurs is training with live ammunition and as he progresses this will surely draw the attention of those seeking quality rugby players.
I consider myself lucky to know a Father who holds himself to the highest standard of responsibility and care for his Club and his Son, in whom, I see a passion for the sport of rugby that will take him to great places in life. I am happy to know them, and their story belies the story of our club. To get to where we are now was hard fought and where we are going as a club will require those conscientious players and club members like Bill and Blake Clayton to take us even further.