MEDICINE HAT, AB — No, it's not the most popular sport in Medicine Hat. Nor is it in Canada, or any part of North America.
But a whole swack load of young athletes are taking a deep liking to rugby.
Darryl Smith, the mastermind behind the Dragon's Youth Rugby program, has witnessed first hand the numbers jump in the last six years.
"My son was six, him and I were watching a rugby game together and he said 'I want to play rugby'," said Smith, who's also one of several coaches for the Eagle Butte - Crescent Heights - McCoy rugby squad. "That was six years ago, we had six kids that year. Now we're up to 42."
Twice a week, several dozen kids take part in a series of drills and games, conducted by Smith at the Hat High pitch. But the long-time Eagle Butte phys-ed teacher says the game of rugby is so much more than it's technical side.
"For me, rugby is very important for teaching honour and respect," added Smith, noting he can't stress these vital life lessons enough to his athletes. "I'm really proud of where (this program) has come and I think it can grow even more and that's the exciting part."
New this year — players are given team jerseys, mimicking the professional ranks found in New Zealand.
Smith says adding in team colours along with a team name gives his young athletes more reason to continue with the game.
"I believe it's a sense of ownership and pride," he continued. "Pride in that 'we're the Cheifs', or 'we're the Crusaders'. That does go a long way."
The growth in popularity comes from a number of different factors. Smith says his assistant coaches are far more dedicated, and were once coached by himself either in high school or in the men's league.
He says several parents have opened up to him the joy their children have in playing rugby. This positive feedback rubs off on more kids who become keenly interested in giving it a try.
"I've had parents come up to me and say 'we've tried this and we tried that and my son or my daughter is really enjoying *(rugby)," he said. "I really do believe it's the people who've come out and taken an active role in this. We have some men who've helped coach, and now we have some young women who are coming out and taking leadership roles and they're 14 years old.
"It's really powerful stuff."