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Future bright for South Delta rugby program

Huge interest at Grade 8 level a year ago leads to Tsawwassen school fielding two junior teams this season with plenty of standout athletes

Matt Baines is double shifting these days and doesn’t mind the extra time on the sidelines one bit.

The South Delta Secondary teacher, who has had a leading role in the success of the boys' rugby program for about a decade, is coaching two junior boys’ teams this season thanks to huge interest at the Grade 8 level a year ago when the sport resumed following a two-year pandemic pause.

Helping Baines out is parent volunteer and long-time friend Nate Mantle. The pair were one-time teammates during the glory days of the once powerhouse program at McRoberts Secondary in Richmond.

Last week at SDSS, they guided the “A” team to a big win over Earl Marriott then led the Sun Devils “B” team into its game against LA Matheson.

The Sun Devils got off to a terrific start against Marriott with three tries in the opening half then held off their South Surrey opponent for their biggest victory of the season thus far.

“I’m pretty close with the Marriott coaches. There has never been a heated rivalry with them, it has always been about pushing each other, kind of an iron sharpens iron type of thing,” said Baines. “I always enjoy playing against them because they are so well coached and very organized. It’s always a good test for both teams.”

The pandemic hit just days before the start of the 2020 season. At the time, the senior boys’ team was getting set to play its first-ever campaign at the elite level against such programs at St. Georges and Shawnigan. By the time the COVID restrictions were lifted last spring, Baines’ brother Spencer had left his teaching career for a job with the Port of Vancouver. Spencer’s decorated run as senior coach included winning a provincial title in 2018.

Any uncertainty of the rugby program’s future was put to rest, with Matt staying on, while fellow SDSS teacher Sean Waymouth now has the reigns of a very competitive senior team.

“The transition of (returning to rugby) was pretty smooth. I think it was because every school had been affected the same way and we’re all in the same boat. It wasn’t like we didn’t play for two years and everyone else did,” continued Baines. “So last year when we came back, I decided to coach the Grade 8s just to get a bit of a ground floor going. It turned out we had a ton of good athletes and an awesome season where we went undefeated. They are now the core of our (top) junior team.”

Baines added the healthy roster numbers also reflects a partnership with the school’s football program as both are encouraging student athletes to play the two sports.