The 49th Annual Victoria Mini Rugby Tournament – Article and Photo Gallery by Lisa Cooper
[ed. photo gallery can be viewed here.]
by Lisa Cooper
On Friday, May 12th, thirty-two teams from sixteen elementary schools descended onto the dandelion covered fields of Gordon Head Middle School, for the 49th annual Victoria Mini Rugby Tournament.
Yes you read that right, 49th! This tournament first began in the spring of 1973, and has only missed one year due to a global pandemic closing down rugby fields in 2020.
In ’73 Mick Eckardt was a teacher at Willows School and had recently represented Canada in Japan at a three nations rugby tournament. He was approached by four other local rugby players; Ian Maclean, Michael Antolin, Peter Gallagher, and Tom Bourne with an idea for an elementary school rugby tournament. Elementary school at the time was K-7, so the earlier years of the tournament included kids from grades six and seven, and the first year consisted of six teams competing on the fields at Lansdowne school.
The tournament grew significantly over the next decade, and by the mid-late ’80s it reached peak entries with 56 teams attending from all over Vancouver Island.
The year before the switch to K-5 format in elementary schools, the tournament added grade fives, and the years that followed have been teams made of grades three to five. During this shift, the tournament began to see more females playing, likely due to less physical discrepancies between genders at younger ages.There are rapidly growing numbers of females playing rugby in school at younger ages, and the organizers would like to see further growth with the addition of more female coaches and referees.
If you were to ask any rugby player that grew up around Victoria over the last five decades, they likely played in or volunteered at this rugby tournament. There is nothing comparable to it in British Columbia, and over the years teams from the Mainland, including the former Hillside Middle School, and Mulgrave and Collingwood Independent schools, have travelled to the island in search of competition for their eager young rugby players. There have been many familiar faces on the sidelines of this tournament, now watching their own children, coaching, or out on the field refereeing; ex-internationals and local rugby legends among them.
Much respect and thanks should be given to those individuals who put time and effort into this event year after year, and to the sponsors (KidSport Victoria) who contribute. They have created a fun and memorable experience for decades of children on/around Vancouver Island, and they continue to grow the game of rugby. We’re looking forward to attending and celebrating the 50th next year!