Volume 92, Issue 83
Wednesday, March 5, 1999
Ruggers playing ambassadors
© Tom Baumgartner/Gazette
By John Dinner
"The world is a classroom."
Those were the words of chair of intercollegiate athletics Darwin Semotiuk when describing the upcoming tour for the men's rugby team.
On May 1, the Western men's rugby team will be travelling to South Africa for an 18-day rugby excursion which includes seven games against six different universities. It's an opportunity for many of the players to learn from some of the very best in the world.
"It's the cutting edge of rugby and right now South Africa is the best in the world," said Mustang captain Rob Werstine. "They play a much different style, more exciting and a lot looser. It's the way we want to play next year."
The attitude of continually pushing themselves has been evident in both the men's and women's rugby programs as they have embarked on a number of tours in the last few years.
"When we returned from Ireland [in May 1997] the guys were just so excited. They were asking where we were going next," said men's rugby coach Gerry Slattery.
The funding for this trip is an out-of-pocket expense for the players who have decided to go (41 of 46) and they have put together an extensive fund-raising and sponsorship program.
"As a team we've taken some pretty ambitious steps," Werstine said. "This is the largest fundraising endeavour ever by a university team at Western."
The jewel of this program will be a celebrity auction to be held at the London Convention Centre on March 26. Tickets for the event are $100 and include dinner, celebrity speakers and of course the auction. Speakers include former National Hockey League player Dennis Hull and Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo, while items in the auction include a trip and autographed memorabilia from stars like John Elway.
"Fund-raising started out slow but it's really picked up as of late," Slattery said. "It has forced the guys to work together. That really helps the team on and off the field."
This fund-raising is because intercollegiate athletics cannot afford to give any financial assistance for something like this, but that does not mean there is no assistance provided, as the university has helped in getting the word of the tour out. It has also provided facilities so the players can continue to practice together.
"We are in the business of education and we fully support any project that contributes to the development of our students," Semotiuk said. "I always encourage teams to go above and beyond and this is a wonderful opportunity for growth."
The unique opportunity of being able to go to South Africa to represent Canada has positive ramifications off the field as well.
"We are the first Canadian university to tour South Africa and the government there and the rugby union have been extremely helpful," Slattery said. "They've received some bad press and rightfully so, but they are changing and we're hoping to help them with that."
Ambassadors and rugby players, these Western students have an opportunity of a lifetime to do it all.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999