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Bow Valley all-stars want to inspire youth, grow rugby

Four Banff and Canmore rugby players selected to an over 35 Alberta all-star team
20220723 Banff Bears VS Calgary Canucks Rugby JH 0012
Banff Bears Jeremy Woodcock scores a try at Banff Recreation Grounds. RMO PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – A group of passionate Bow Valley rugby players are showing that the hard-hitting sport can be a lifelong activity.

Satisfied with what he’d done on the pitch for the Banff Bears, Mark Hooper had hung up his boots and scrum cap, but he couldn’t turn down an opportunity to play for an Alberta all-star men’s team for over 35 players, which has him feeling like a kid again.

“To get this call-up is a big honour for me. I never did it for accolades but to get this it kind of pulls on the heart strings a little bit,” said Hooper, who’s known around town as Hoops.

“Now to get recognized at 42 years old for this has definitely rejuvenated my spirit for the upcoming rugby season because … all of a sudden I’m a 14-year-old kid, giddy with excitement, and I can’t wait for this game to come around again.”

Hoops, along with the Bow Valley’s Jeremy Woodcock, Frank Dwyer and Darrell Cranny were selected to the Calgary Mavericks over 35 men’s team, an elite team of Albertans, for a 15s match Saturday, April 20 in Victoria, British Columbia.

The 26-man roster Mavericks take on the B.C. select team, made up of ex pros, national level athletes and the very best club players. There’s potential that players competing Saturday will be selected to the Canadian Classics squad, which plays against international competition.

“It will be a high level game,” said Woodcock. “Speed might be a little bit slower, but it won’t be that much slower and the hits are still as hard.”

“Everyone’s got that old man’s strength,” said Hooper.

When the team was put together, Mavericks selection coach Vinny McAuley made a point to look at the Banff Bears men’s roster, which year-after-year has been one of the best teams in Alberta.

Woodcock, who recently played full back with the Canadian Classics team in Texas, also put the local standouts’ names forward.

What the Mavericks are getting in the Bow Valley four are some serious wheels in Woodcock and bruisers and powerful workhorses in Hoops, Dwyer and Cranny.

“Obviously with over 35, the legs aren’t quite what they used to be and the lungs aren’t quite there, but the skill level is and you know you’re playing with guys who know the game,” said Hoops.

“Once we’re in, hopefully we can showcase what we’re about and get a little bit more of an invite to other places,” said Woodcock.

Saturday’s match is also to honour the memory of Kevin “Lunk” Wirachowski, a legend in Canadian rugby, and a joint fundraiser is attached for the Canadian Rugby Foundation’s new award fund to support younger players.

The youth aspect is on the minds of the Bow Valley squad. With the Mavericks selection, the hope is more young athletes around the Bow Valley and Alberta will see that rugby can be played well into adulthood, like with shinny hockey.

They said if one loves a sport, whatever it may be, do it for as long as possible.

“It’s not about us, it’s about the bigger picture,” said Woodcock. “There might be a kid today who’s playing rugby and opens that article and sees over 35 and thinks I didn’t know you could play rugby that long and maybe they’ll actually stick with it.”

Active in the local rugby community, the sport will never leave their blood, said Woodcock. He, like many others, have seen the development of youth rugby within the community over the past decade.

“At one point, we had eight high school [graduates] in the starting line up [of the men's rugby team],” said Woodcock. “I turned to Hoops and said I remember when we couldn’t even get one [graduate] out to practice.”

In recent years, former Banff high school rugby players who have made national and professional teams have also given hope to local athletes wanting to pursue the sport further. Canmore's Krissy Scurfield is a rising star on the women’s national sevens team and Holly Phillips plays for the Bristol Bears of the Premiership Women’s Rugby.

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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