Rugby sevens given the nod

LEADING THE CHARGE: Don Mills CI coach Daniel Kunanec, in the yellow jacket, has been championing for rugby sevens to be officially sanctioned Toronto District School Board since 2003. In June, his hard work paid off.

Coach’s dream grows from humble beginnings to official TDSB sport

The Toronto District School Board is welcoming a new sanctioned sport to its athletics fold.

Voting members of Toronto’s 86 public high schools officially approved rugby sevens in June.

The results, 89 percent in favour, have pleased Don Mills Collegiate’s Daniel Kunanec who has been championing on behalf of 1,091 student rugby players.

But the process to present why rugby sevens as a viable sport was a meticulous one, Kunanec admits.

“I just wanted to get it right,” he said. “It wasn’t that I was nervous, I just felt I had a responsibility to all the students who had already played in those tournaments and to the athletes, coaches and referees involved.

“Which was interesting because I felt like I started it all those years ago as sort of a lone wolf and it has grown so much.”

What added to his consternation was votes were cast through clickers instead of by hands for the first time.

“It was interesting because this was the first year it wasn’t a public vote,” he said. “So you didn’t know which way the people were voting, so it made it that more nerve-wracking.”

Along with Kunanec, Leaside’s Alf Scharlach and Northern’s Daniel Gana assisted. Kunanec noted they had rebuttals handy should they run into any conflict.

“Dan Gana actually presented a counter argument before we needed it,” Kunanec said, with a laugh. “And a few people joked with us after that he really didn’t even need to go there.

“They let us know that maybe we lost a few votes because he was overzealous,” he said. “But the passion was there, it was so good.”

With the inclusion of rugby sevens, it doesn’t mean the TDSSAA Rugby Sevens Championship Series tournament is going the wayside.

“Rugby sevens is tournament structure, so that will never change,” Kunanec said. “What we are able to do now though is to have more supporting tournaments.”

Also being proposed is a point system where teams entering the supporting tourneys will gain in rankings leading up to the championship series.

“We’re encouraging more play,” he said. “It’s a very clear, obvious theory that the more you play the better you’re going to be.”

With Toronto’s board voting in favour, other regions are seeing their opportunity as well, including York, Peel and Durham.

On the question of OFSAA’s involvement, Kunanec explains Rugby Ontario already has a system in place, based off of Toronto’s.

“They now have a second tournament which is their championship tournament, so if you through your own region feeling that you have done things worthy of being in a championship tournament, you can then be invited in your provincial championship,” he said.

The advantage for Kunanec, being the coach of Ontario Junior Blues Sevens Mens program, is he has seen the national, provincial and city rugby program grow by rucks and rolls.

In an international tournament held in Victoria, B.C., his team won gold. Those same players have the chance to represent Canada at the Youth Commonwealth games in Isle of Man this September.

Rio in 2016 is not far off. Not to compete but to medal, Kunanec says.

“It’s not the end of something, it’s not even the beginning,” he said. “It’s part of a structure that’s there.”

It’s a structure that he says has got the rest of the world talking.

“I think so often we kind of assume what (England, Australia and New Zealand) have done best and we’re going to follow them,” Kunanec said. “But it just so happens that we’re currently world leaders at the junior level in rugby sevens.

“People are talking about it at high levels and we need to appreciate it and acknowledge it.”

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