author: Jacob Nelson | Staff writer
Regina Highlanders are one of the fastest growing sports clubs in the city / Courtesy of the Highlander rugby club
A look at Regina’s growing rugby club
After a successful 2018 campaign, the Regina Highlanders Rugby Club are gearing up once again for the 2019 season. Last year the Highlanders made it to the Provincial Semi-Finals against both the Saskatoon Wild Oats (D1) and Regina Condors (D2). 2018 also saw many changes and additions for the club. They had one of their best years in terms of jersey sponsorship, brought in a new website, won the league city championship, and had those same talents on display in the Provincial Semi-Finals.
“The next big step for the Highlanders is to consolidate and solidify things this year. We added a large contingent of players from the Moose Jaw Air Base, and we created an entire Division II team from the Highlanders,” said Nathan Sgrazzutti, President of the Highlanders Rugby Club.
Nathan said they want to further solidify the success of their new Division II squad while building onto their Division I squad.
“[Winning] a league city championship was amazing, but we want to go for the whole thing.”
They also had the opportunity to travel to Prince Albert to play this year, the first of any Regina team to do so.
The last year has also seen many additions not only on the pitch, but off it as well.
“We are very fortunate to have a lot of members on our board and involved with our team. We want to make sure that when people offer their time, that we try and empower them to bring their own unique strengths to the table.”
For example, they have a member who is very interested in graphic design, so they’ve had a lot of success in the visual representation of their club. This year, they hope to find someone just as interested in working on the new Highlanders website. This is very important to the team, said Sgrazzutti, who mentioned the importance of a website reaching out to potential players.
“For the longest time the Highlanders were the only team with a website. This helped a lot with recruitment.”
The club also produced a very polished and professionally made hype video for the new season. In the sporting world, and especially at higher levels, videos like these really help engage the public. We don’t get a lot of organizations in Regina that take the time to develop team videos of high quality, so I asked him what it was like for the team to get involved in production process.
“It was so exciting for the guys to have something they can show to people who ask them what rugby is all about.”
The filmmaker, Joel Davis, and the club put in a lot of hard work to make the video and it shows.
Bringing the conversation back to the pitch I asked about head coach Greg Toews.
“He was brought up through the ranks of the Highlanders. He played almost every position you can think of and has experience in winning with the Highlanders. He has played the sport for so long and cares for his players. He coaches 24/7, 12 months a year, and when he’s not coaching the Highlanders, he is coaching the Cougars.”
Nathan also mentioned that Toews has an incredibly exciting coaching development opportunity in the works and the club will be announcing it in the near future.
“He has developed not only the players, but other coaches as well. This has allowed us to become involved with Rugby at many different levels within Saskatchewan.”
That involvement in other levels is not only with their new Division II team, but also with the high school program in Regina.
“The Highlanders actively manage three high school 7’s teams; Riffel, Luther, and Winston Knoll.”
These three come together to form the Highlanders Junior 15’s, better known as “The fighting Scots.” In order to have a league you must have other teams. So, the Highlanders spend their time making sure the greater Ruby community is always engaged and motivated to continue playing the sport wherever they decide to go.
The Highlanders also make a point of opening up the sport to people who have never played Rugby before. In order to recruit newcomers to a full contact sport, they have to make sure anyone coming in has the right mindset.
“I once had a coach tell me in the middle of a game that anyone who plays rugby has to have a specific screw loose, and that’s the one where you like getting in there and like getting physical. When the sport is done properly, it is safe and its a lot of fun.”
They find that someone new to the sport typically takes one full season before they have a solid handle on their position. Desmond Downer, a player for both the University of Regina Cougars and the Highlanders, is now playing on the coast for Westshore Rugby in his first season playing in the B.C. Premiership.
“We have guys who take to Rugby like a fish in the water and other guys take a bit of time to learn, but were happy to have all of them in the club”.
The Highlanders spend a lot of time and effort building their club as well. They make sure to form good, long lasting partnerships with the community and represent their brand throughout the city. Sponsorship from organizations such as GymStar Pro Shop and The Canadian Brewhouse allow the Highlanders to continue operating year after year, and they make sure that they give right back to that community anytime they have a chance.
Nathan also noted that the entire Highlanders club would be wearing a patch all season long in honour of former teammate and friend Promise “Max” Chukwudum. The Rugby community and Regina community as a whole felt a tragic blow in December when we learned of the passing of Max. The Highlanders and Cougars are both making big efforts this year to make sure Max’s legacy will continue to live on through his friends as they play the sport he loved.