I took thousands of photographs, both on fields and inside gymnasiums, over the course of the 2017-18 B.C.high school and university sports season.
And while my personal favourites all, to some degree, attempt to convey a sense of emotion, the one that stands out most for me does so for a variety of reasons.
It happened on the final weekend of the season, on a late Friday afternoon in early June.
The photo you see on this page began, upon first inspection, as a curiosity. It prompted questions whose resulting answers not only helped me see it with more depth, but caused a pleasing facial reaction.
So as we continue our final week of coverage before summer hiatus here at VarsityLetters.ca, we remind you to always exercise that thing which sits right under our very noses: Our smile.
ABBOTSFORD — I was kneeling on the grass rugby pitch early last month at Rotary Stadium, training my trusty Nikon downfield on the action before me, thinking just how luxurious and comfortable this playing surface felt.
To John Truly Boehme, however, such places are truly like home.
The event that day was none other than the B.C. Quad A senior boys rugby championship final, and as I kept my focus adjusted on the developing play, a galloping member of the Oak Bay Barbarians soon came into focus.
At that moment, the Victoria school already owned a late, second-half lead over the dynastic, defending champions from Shawnigan Lake School. Another score, however, might not only put the game out of reach but insure a little history as well.
Closer and closer my subject came, the ball tucked under his arm and his feet moving at such a pace that it appeared his life depended on crossing the try line.
By this time, my camera had put pedal to metal, firing at a full 10 frames per second.
And when J.T. Boehme dove into touch for the score, his team would soon take a 24-8 lead, en route to a 24-13 victory which not only gave the Barbs their first B.C. title in 15 years, but also made them the first public school in this province to win the sport’s top-tiered title in 10 years.
How exciting, I thought.
But then, as I squinted into the back of the camera to study the string of photos I had taken, I noticed it.
THE THRILL OF THE GRASS
The nose knows.
In the sport of rugby, especially, you can tell so much about both the timbre of a match and the character of its players by simply training your eyes on their noses.
Some mis-shapen. Some bent and bruised. Some bloodied.
And so as I studied and then re-studied my photographs of Oak Bay’s scrum half, my gaze, of course, went to his nose.
I did a double-take. I tapped on my zoom button.
Torn from the pitch and deftly shoved into his left nostril was a handful of that luxurious Rotary Stadium grass.
Now, it’s certainly not the first time such resourcefulness has been shown on the pitch.
Yet nothing better exemplifies the heat-of-the-moment desperation which Boehme faced as he and his fellow seniors fought so desperately to beat a Shawnigan Lake team which had won seven of the previous eight B.C. top-tiered titles.
“Shawnigan Lake has that huge aura surrounding them,” Boehme told me later, “and when there is a team like that, in any sport, going out and actually taking them down is a huge accomplishment.”
Just moments before scoring his team’s final try, Boehme had been attempting to steal a ball when he was blindsided by the shoulder of an opposition player.
“I started to bleed, but I didn’t want a blood sub,” Boehme continued of his nose. “I wanted this (win) so badly. My instinct was just to grab some grass, shove it up my nose, and just keep going.”
And while it certainly wasn’t the first time a similar measure had been taken in the sport, the context in which it occurred is what made it so special: Scoring the insurance try in second half of the B.C. AAAA championship final to give your school its first title in 15 years.
After stopping his nose from bleeding, the Barbs were awarded a line-out, and off the subsequent second phase of play, Boehme scored his try.
A STORYBOOK ENDING
“He simply did not want to miss any time on the field, waiting for the trainer to put gauze up the nose” said Oak Bay head coach Peter Atkinson afterwards. “It’s such a great photo. It just shows how much JT wanted to be a part of this win.”
There were many epic championship wins this season when you look across the spectrum of B.C. high school sports.
Yet in a sport so dominated at its highest levels by private school sides, perhaps no other title served to re-boot a single sport’s potential narrative in this province than Oak Bay’s victory.
And let’s face it, without the Boehme try, there is no telling which way the match’s momentum may have gone, especially against a classy Shawnigan Lake side, one with all of the experience and tradition of such moments on their side.
And thus an instinctive action to plug a bleeding nose by the team’s senior scrum half winds up being an integral part of an historic win.
“We knew we had the skill and drive to do it,” says Boehme, who turned 18 last month and is set in a few days to leave for New Zealand where he will spend the next year volunteering as an educational assistant at an all-boys school, all the while taking any advantage he can to play a little rugby himself.
“We knew we had it in us,” he added. “I think we all pictured ourselves looking back on what our high school careers were like, and we wanted this to be our legacy.”
He’s John Truly Boehme.
Truly? It’s his middle name.
“I think it’s the last name of an author, but I’m not really too sure,” he admits.
If that’s so, perhaps there was some osmosis at work, because in the last game of his high school career, a storybook ending was Truly authored.
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