Local BC Writer, A Retired Rugby Player and High School Teacher, Has Two Children’s Rugby Novels Published
Mike Levitt has turned a love of rugby and a skill at writing into a post retirement career. He already has had local media articles published highlighting his books aimed at a youth readership. The Williams Lake Tribune article noted “Retired high school teacher and former Williams Lake rugby coach Mike Levitt has penned his second book about the sport: Rugby Rookies, released this month by Lorimer publishing.” The Kamloops This Week article opened with, “Kamloops author Mike Levitt split the uprights with his first kick at a childrens book.”
We asked Mike to talk about his rugby playing and coaching days and his current writing career.
I kicked off my rugby career in 1976 with the Abbotsford Club as an eighteen year-old playing flanker. We called it break-away back then. The nineteen seventies game was, in hind-sight, rather ponderous, but laws around rucking were in their infancy, and if you couldnt boast a good set of ruck marks in the shower you hadnt really been in the game. Around that time I was selected for the Fraser Valley Under 19’s but the team got off to a sputtering start and stalled a few weeks in. I had a season with the Meralomas and played First Division. In those days, the late seventies, no one had heard of Premier.
I was warmly adopted by the Williams Lake Rustlers when my wife and I moved north to the Cariboo in 1981. Northern BCs Third Division in the 1980s fostered a brand of rugby with a unique set of customs, a charm all its own. Some weeks wed convoy to Quesnel or Prince George with only twelve or thirteen players. There are stories of bolstering the roster by picking up players in the McLeese Lake Bar, converting hitch hikers, and I remember a guy in dress shoes that we tried to hide in the second row.
We were a motley assortment of men, brought together by the joy of the game. On one road trip I remember the driver remarking on the diversity of his passengers. A logger, a doctor, a biker, and a teacher.
Sometimes there were gaps on the pitch that needed to be filled. I liked to play seven but in my career with the Rustlers I often played six or eight, twelve or thirteen, and had a few games at nine. If there was a call for the tight five Id undoubtedly make myself scarce. I once played ten but the depth and direction of my kick, despite perfect conditions, had players and spectators laying bets.
I never fully understood the game until I started coaching high school in 1983. Williams Lake is a small forestry and ranching community that has produced a remarkable number of BC and Canada level players. The towns rugby success is due to the passion of a small group of coaches and maybe because of the nature of Cariboo players. There is an inherent toughness a kid brings to the pitch if he or she is used to throwing bails, chopping wood, and jump-starting the tractor at minus twenty.
What were my claims to fame in thirty years of coaching? I introduced Leslie Cripps (now Rugby Canada Hall of Fame) to the game. Our girls won a Japan Cup and a provincial title in 2003. At the end of my career I had the pleasure of coaching the very witty and talented Jake Ilnicki, now with Canada and Seattle Seawolves. We took teams of high schoolers to Nova Scotia, to England, and Wales.
Rugby Rivals is my first novel. Its been recognized by The Junior Library Guild, in New York, as a Gold Standard Read. The JLG purchased 1500 copies to distribute across the US. Ironically my biggest buyer is from our greatest rival.
Both Rugby Rivals and Rugby Rookies are published by James Lorimer and Company in Toronto as part of the Hi/Lo Sports Series. They are high interest, low level vocabulary books, aimed at kids age nine to fourteen who read at a grade two, three, four level.
My aim is two-fold, to entice new readers and grow the game. Book number three is in the draft stage.
An update from Mike “I just got some exciting news! Rugby Rivals has been short listed for the Chocolate Lily BC Children’s book award.” He’s shortlisted in the Novel Category Nominees (Grades 4 7).
The books’ publisher, Lorimer Publishing, has these descriptions of the books. You can also order the books online through their website.
Sam’s grandfather, Pops, always taught Sam that the most important aspects of rugby are sportsmanship and teamwork. Things are not great at home, with Pops having Alzheimer’s and Sam’s mother trying to make ends meet, but Sam’s struggles really begin when his school is shut down and he transfers to Rosedale Heights. Sam feels like he’s alone against the world trying to prove himself and failing. He has trouble fitting in with the snobby Rosedale team, especially Bittner, who resents Sam’s presence. In an act of retaliation, Sam breaks a teammate’s nose, and he knows he’s lost sight of what rugby is supposed to be about. When Sam scores the winning try in a game, he wonders if it was for his own glory or for the team. All seems lost when, set up by Bittner, Sam gets kicked off the team under suspicion of stealing. Can Sam prove his innocence and get back in play for the highly anticipated England game? And can he play the kind of rugby that will make Pops proud?
Highlighting rugby, the fastest growing sport in America, this book tackles the issue of girls playing full-contact sports. Maddy and her friends are a small town group determined to form a girls’ junior rugby team while they navigate learning both the rules of the game and the rules set out by the school board. The adults are concerned about the girls’ safety and even Maddy worries that she is too small for the rough game. But the persistence of the diverse group of girls wins the day and the book becomes a celebration of the empowerment and self-esteem young girls get from participating in sports.