Penticton rugby dates back to 1907

Penticton rugby dates back to early 1900s, Grey Cup originally awarded to top amateur club

Pa ‘kit tournament which started in 1993 has attracted several teams

Pa ‘kit tournament which started in 1993 has attracted several teams

Marty Godsmark

Special to Western News

Rugby in Penticton started around the beginning of the 20th century.  A photo of the original club in 1907 from the Penticton Museum is in the Penticton Harlequins rugby clubhouse. It shows 12 members lined up at scrimmage.  The rugby league grew directly out of the rugby union and eventually evolved into a game called “football” by North Americans. Although in the “football” version, the foot rarely touches the ball. In Canada, this gridiron version of rugby features the Grey Cup as its top annual award; a trophy which was originally presented in 1909 by the Governor General of Canada, Earl Grey for the Amateur Rugby Football Championship of Canada.

At Penticton Secondary, rugby developed in a different direction.  Rugby Union, as initiated at Rugby School in England around 1837, is the brand played throughout the last 40 years.

In 1973, Dr. Paul (Doc) Kennedy, arrived at Pen High and was talked into getting rugby going at the secondary school level by a couple of his chemistry students, Bill Lusted and Ross Bowman.  At that time, Alan Forsey had a junior boys’ rugby team at McNicoll Park Jr. Secondary and Eugene Mioshi started one at Princess Margaret Jr. Secondary  The players of these sides included such legends as Peter Adams, Rob and Don Bryden, Andy Sajna, Gary Hoolaoff, Bruno Timpano, Brian Moore, Alan Briard, Roly Egilson, Matt Attrill, Kerry Kenyon, Richard Muchman, David Szabo, Ray Perrault, Mark Ruffiange and, when he wasn’t busy with hockey, Andy Moog.  These players and others all brought rugby to Doc Kennedy’s program.  The ‘70s were booming years during which, according to Forsey, the Penticton sides played against schools up and down the Okanagan Valley and McNicoll. With the help of co-coach George Millar, they rarely lost.

The coaching staff Doc led included enthusiastic individuals as the great football coach Dave Lee; Gary Unterschultz, who would return as principal of Pen High in the late 1990s, and numerous non-teaching community coaches such as Murray Duncan and Dr. Miles Adams, who was also responsible for the creation and support of the Penticton Harlequins Rugby Football Club in 1979.  Through the 1980’s, Doc was assisted mostly by staff member Hugh Lines.

By 1990 both a Grade 8 and a junior boys’ side was added to Doc’s senior boys team.  Coaches Brian Salter and Marty Godsmark started the Grade 8 boys in the fall and the junior boys were organized the following spring.  Godsmark continued this work by organizing the Southern Interior Grade 8, junior and senior boys’ leagues to provide a continuity of matches.  The leagues included three Penticton schools plus Summerland, coached by Don Bergstrom; Oliver,  coached by Huia Martin; Osoyoos; and for a couple of years, Keremeos under principal Brett Orinson.

These leagues crossed over with the Central Okanagan Leagues. Organizing matches with sides from Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops or Merritt was never a challenge for Grade 8, junior and senior coaches.

In 1991, Ian Butters joined Pen High’s coaching roster.  Coach Butters provided a huge impetus to the fledgling program and his massive energy soon started to make a positive impact.  Like Dave Lee and Kennedy, who had contributed to the rugby community by joining and playing for the Harlequins Club, Butters and Godsmark joined the men’s club and continued to support, as Harlequins, the rugby community throughout their teaching careers and beyond.

In 1993, the Pa’Kit Tournament was created.  Starting with 23 sides in the junior and senior boys’ categories, Pa’Kit grew to over 60 teams. At its height, up to 1,500 players came to town on the Easter weekend to play as junior boys, senior boys and, with the addition of Julie Cornett-Ching to the coaching staff, as girls by 1996. As new principal, Peter Corcoran joined the Pen High staff in 1999, girls’ rugby took off and, with the addition of teaching coach Heidi Dreger from Merritt, made huge gains.  Over the 19 seasons that the Pa’Kit tournament was running, numerous sides from outside of Canada played such as England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S.A., as well as four other Canadian provinces.

In August of 1995, the senior boys took their first overseas tour to England and Wales and added two teams, Kings College from Winchester, England, and Monmouth School of Pontypool Wales, to the Pa’Kit roster over the following two seasons.

In 2001, the Pen High senior team toured California, Washington and Oregon supervised by Andy Botero, Fraser Barton, Bob Bosscher and Butters.  In 2004 Butters, with the backing of Ken Sommerfeldt, Dave Marfleet, Andy Botero and James Cunningham, took the senior boys back to Britain for a second successful overseas tour. The last of the overseas ventures to date, headed again by Butters, was in 2006 and co-coached by Dave Bellomo, John Carboni, Roly Egilson and Ro Hindson.

Although the addition of an eight-team premiere secondary school league on the coast in the 1990’s made competing for the B.C. high school championship out of reach for interior sides at the AAA level, the Lakers managed to get into the 16-team AAA competition four times in that decade.

Over the 40 years of Rugby Union development, the game has seen many positive accomplishments, thousands of wonderful players and, of course, a few setbacks.

The philosophy of the coaching staff throughout the years has always emphasized grades first – then fitness, participation and fun.  Of the thousands of students who have made the effort required to play, the vast majority stayed the course and graduated. Many went on to play higher levels. Some went from Harlequins straight into first division play while others have played for Canada throughout the world.

A major setback to the program occurred in 1997 when the School District maintenance department made the decision to fill in the end zones of the school’s rugby pitch with track and field installations. This ignored the fact that the Pen High rugby club had 181 players and six student managers on five teams, while the track and field team drew only five students.  The decision also meant that, since that time, rugby teams have been obliged to play at the local middle school field and Pen High has never again enjoyed home field advantage.

Over the decades, many contributions have assisted our coaches to continue the programs.  Referees are as essential as fitness itself to the game.  The following, plus many more, have been instrumental in allowing rugby to continue at Pen High through their consistent efforts in refereeing throughout the years: Dave Lee, Dave Krochinski, Bernie Hopley, George Millar, Bevan Eathorne, Steve Taylor, Graham Watt, Alan Forsey, Huia Martin, Ken Sommerfeldt, Ken Simpson, Howie Richardson, Ian Butters, Colby Curnow, Liam Butters, Marcus Carboni, Graham Vuchich, Dave Bellomo, Kalvin Clarke, Dave Reid, Jason Bosscher, John Eadie, Peter Corcoran and many others – we of the Penticton Harlequins Association thank you for all your efforts.

Numbers of coaches, helping teachers, Harlequins and other concerned community members have left their marks and continue to do so:

Doc Kennedy, Eugene Mioshi, Alan Forsey, Dave Lee, Alan Reilly, George Millar, Steve DeVito, Richard Morgan, Dr. Miles Adams, Hugh Lines, Murray Duncan, Huia Martin, Dr. H. Richardson, Peter Wakeford, Ken Sommerfeldt, Sam Carson, Ian Butters, Heidi Dreger,  Andy Botero, Julie Cornett-Ching, Michelle Glibbery (nee: Martin), Peter Corcoran, Len MacFarlane,  Dave Bellomo, Lance Skoyen, Russ Reid, Marcus Toniatto, Darryl Tenisci, Dave Hurd, John Carboni, Graham Vuchich, Fraser Barton, Peter Adams, Lorne Lovett, Roly Egilson, Daryl Clarke, Brandon Messier,  John Cannon, Vic Fullard, and many others. All have coached or are continuing their efforts to coach players of Pen High. For this, and the many other things done to make the sport possible, a heart felt thank you and well done.

Pen High rugby committee is encouraging coaches, referees, players, team managers and supporters to meet on May 19 at 2 p.m. in Ian Butter’s classroom (226) during the school’s 100 year reunion. People are asked to bring memorabilia and share stories.