Rugby is returning to Nova Scotia high schools, but it will look a little different.
The Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation emailed school principals on Monday, informing them of the decision to reinstate rugby for next spring.
“The Board of Governors have adopted the changes presented by Rugby Nova Scotia and NSSAF staff and as a result have reinstated rugby to the NSSAF sport calendar,” says the note from Stephen MacNeil, chair of the federation’s board.
The NSSAF board banned rugby last May, a ban that lasted only a couple of days before being overturned by Education Minister Zach Churchill. Churchill decreed that the sport’s spring season continue and that concerns about safety be addressed over the summer.
Administration of the sport was temporarily taken over by Rugby Nova Scotia.
Jack Hanratty, executive director of RNS, and Dr. John Gillis made a presentation to the NSSAF board of governors at a meeting in Truro on Friday. Hanratty said he also sat down a number of times over the summer with NSSAF executive director Stephen Gallant to come up with recommendations.
“We talked about a number of things: the amount of games played, the new tackle laws and we spoke about the introduction of junior high flag rugby,” Hanratty said when reached Monday in Ottawa, where he was about to board a plane to Halifax.
The biggest change to the way high school rugby will be played is that tackling must be from the waist down. In the past, it’s been from the shoulders down.
Other changes include a reduction in the maximum number of games, from 16 to 12, not including regionals and provincials. Only students in Grades 10-12 will be allowed to participate in rugby, there will be annual concussion training for coaches, plus mandatory attendance at safe rugby clinics, concussion and safe tackling training for players, and medical personnel are to be on site for matches.
MacNeil’s note says the federation board “looks forward to the release of the final report of the Inter-School Safety Review Panel,” he wrote. “I was pleased to be part of the committee and believe that the cooperation of all sport partners will create a better and safer sport experience for our student athletes.”
Churchill established a large panel to look at the issue of safety in sport over the summer, and Hanratty said that gave his body a chance to get its message across.
“It was never really heated or anything like that, from our perspective we took off our rugby hats and tried to look at it from a coach and teacher perspective. I think that’s where we got a lot of our findings,” Hanratty said. “(Before) we were always on the outside looking in. We just wanted to be at the table, and since this happened in May, we were at the table.”
“We’re willing to run Safe Rugby clinics and stuff like that. In the past, we weren’t doing these things in conjunction with (the NSSAF), we were hosting them around the time of high school rugby.”