Over the past couple of years the pandemic has played havoc with a lot of sports organizations including the Red Deer Titans Rugby Club.
The Titans have used the local high schools as a feeder system for their impressive minor rugby program and ultimately their elite men’s and women’s teams.
But the high school programs have been shut down for the past two seasons. In fact, the Titans missed all of last year themselves and the early portion of this year.
“It’s tough to miss that time, especially being a sport that’s not mainstream… not in front of people’s minds,” said Titans president Dan Meikle. “It was tough in that we lost that pipeline from the high schools as they haven’t played for the past two seasons.”
Still, the Titans are one of the elite rugby programs in the province and continue to work on keeping the game in front of the younger players.
“Historically we run U7, U9, U11, U13 and U15 programs during the spring then switch to U16 and U18 in the summer,” explained Meikle, who is in his fourth season as club president. “This year we still ran an internal competition for the younger age groups with the U13 and U15/16 teams for both boys and girls playing now, so we’re doing what we can to keep them involved.
“The numbers aren’t as strong as they have been but we have players on the field and we’ll start growing again. It will be a lot of work, but we still have a good base.”
Meikle feels it will be tough for the high school programs when they “hopefully” return to the pitch next season.
“Because of missing two complete years, they lose so much experience. The kids who were in Grade 10 haven’t played and now are in Grade 12 so that will be interesting to see where it all goes.”
That’s where the Titans younger programs come in.
“We do give a lot of younger kids a place to learn the game and next year we’ll go into the schools to work on recruitment and help as much as we can. The majority of the coaches in central Alberta have ties to our program already, but we’ll encourage our senior players to help where they can.”
The Titans put together a pair of senior women’s teams and one men’s team to compete in the Calgary Rugby League.
The women’s elite program is one of the best in the province, but as university rugby begins that will change. The Titans will lose close to 20 women to the universities. The men will lose five.
The women are spread out across Canada with Jada Holtkamp, Brooklyn Perry, Gwen Fillinger, Erin McFadden and MacKenzie Hutton at the University of Lethbridge, Leah and Naomi Brunner and Anna Petersen in Calgary, Morgan Warner and Sydney Burchnall at the U of Vic, Heather Ritchie, Molly Allen, Tessa Strom and Marni Giebelhaus at UBC, Emily Brown and Oleandra Burton at the University of Alberta, Camryn Holland at the University of Ottawa and Kennedy Baillon at the University of PEI.
As well Courtney Holtkamp of Rimbey is attending the National senior women’s camp as part of the top 50 in the country.
The men heading off to University are Adam-Jay Fort, Ben Tindall and Aidan McLaren to Trinity Western and Ethan DeRidder-Potts and Spencer Maier to the U of A. As well Parker Sauder has committed to the U of A for the 2022 season.
Fort is also attending the U20 men’s national camp with McLaren, Kyle Finan, Quenton Fillinger and Wiki Maree at the men’s U18 camp.
The number of players with scholarships is impressive, especially on the women’s side.
“We’ve had a strong women’s program and the boys are picking up,” said Meikle, who feels women’s rugby is popular for a number of reasons.
“It’s one of the few full-contact sports for women,” he said. “I think that’s a draw, plus the scholarships are a real help.”
The Titans are one of the best-run programs in the province with one of the best facilities.
“We have to thank the older members of the club for having the foresight to build such a great facility,” Meikle said. “Plus we’re so fortunate to have the dome to run winter programs. For example we run touch games each week.”
This year’s edition of the Titans has just returned to the pitch as part of the Calgary Association.
“We had two women’s teams but with the players heading to university we’ll drop down to one,” said Meikle.
The men have the one team playing in the four-team regional division of the Calgary league.
The biggest day for the club will be Sept. 18 when both teams play at home.
“We’re looking forward to that day to get everyone out,” said Meikle, who is really excited about next season with it being their 50th anniversary.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com