Lucky number sevens for TFS

MOMENT OF REPOSE: Dougie Craig takes a moment after practice to pose with his team.

Dougie Craig invests his own time into developing extra-curricular sport for Cougars

Highlander-turned-Canadian Dougie Craig is introducing students at Toronto French School to the art of rugby.

Hailing from the Northwest Highlands of Scotland by Isle of Skye, Craig sought out flag rugby sevens for his son Andy to play.

When he came across Toronto Saracens, a rugby club who were training under-10 kids at Cameron Public School in North York, Craig offered a lateral pass to Andy’s schoolmates.

“I thought some of Andy’s buddies at school might quite fancy the idea,” he said. “I invited them along to the training.”

When many of the under-10s were from Toronto French School, Craig approached the Bayview and Lawrence-area institution about extra-curricular status.

With a little help from Toronto Saracens, the school was game.

“I spoke to the (Saracens), and they said they’ll sponsor it, ‘We’ll give you balls and flags and that sort of thing’,” he said. “They put a little behind us and with help coaching from time-to-time.”

“The school kind of put it kindly out there as an extra-curricular activity,” he added. “They advertised it, ‘Here’s a new activity you can try: non-contact flag-rugby’.”

Now in its fourth season, playing for two springs and now its second fall, the school squad has expanded to include students from grades 3 through 5.

Craig suggested kids are drawn to the tag-like aspect of flag rugby.

“It’s just that the kids love that kind of space-invasion game,” he said, adding sprint drills and training help them understand the dynamics of running games in general.

“I think it helps a lot with spatial awareness,” he said. “That’s the key, how it awakens their ability to look at a large group of bodies and decide what to do.”

That growth has led to improvements in the junior Craig’s other sports.

“My son also plays on the school soccer team and I’ve also noticed the rugby contingent of that team — who have obviously played more rugby than soccer — actually play the game differently to the opposition,” said Craig. “It’s less a dribbly, individual sport and more of making space for each other sport, and they play it better that way now.

“I don’t know if I’m putting one and two together to make seven, but there appears to be a bit of that going on.”

One parent, Surin Toor, whose son Dylan plays on the under-10 squad that recently won an Ontario Cup tournament, lauded Craig’s initiative.

“It just grew from nothing at the beginning of the year to the kids just winning the Ontario provincial championship,” he said. “I guess it was all about teamwork because we had some athletic kids in there and some not-so-athletic kids.”

The hope with the school’s under-10 squad is to break the stigma that rugby is such a physical sport and introduce an intramural league among the private schools or even public school board.

“I’d really like to see it spread organically,” Craig said.

It doesn’t stop with school boards, as Rugby Ontario has caught wind of Craig’s work.

“I think a lot of people looked out our team and said, ‘Where did they come from?’ ” he said. “Hopefully there will be some sort of talk in (Ontario Rugby Union) circles and some club talk about, ‘Look at what these guys have done here with some school’.

“People are just coming out of the woodwork.”

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