VANCOUVER — For decades, rugby was a mandatory sport at their school.
These days, however, as two of the best high school-aged players in the country, Sam Sirlin and Jack Scher of Vancouver’s St. George’s School are proving that excellence on the pitch doesn’t have to come at the expense of the total high school sports experience.
In fact if you look at the seasons the pair have had as multi-sport athletes at a school branded by 85 years of rugby tradition, you’re hard-pressed to wonder what more they could have accomplished in their primary sport had it been their sole focus.
This month alone, the senior fly-half Scher and the Grade 11 winger Sirlin were integral parts of the Canadian team which competed at the Rugby Europe Under-18 championships in France, and the Saints 1st XV which this past weekend in Ottawa, won the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools national championship title on Scher’s game-ending penalty kick.
“We’re not a rugby school or a rowing school,” says St. George’s rugby program head Mike Stiles. “We’re in our 85th year of rugby and it used to be a mandatory sport here. But we strongly encourage all of our kids to be multi-sport athletes. These days we have 20 varsity sports.”
That’s not to say that rugby at Saints, with its sheer number of student-athletes, along with a sizable coaching staff that includes a strength-and-conditioning coach, isn’t taken seriously.
Of course it is.
Yet Scher made the decision this year to pass up on his club rugby season to focus his energies full-time with the school’s B.C. Triple tournament-qualifying soccer team.
And Sirlin, a former four-sport Saints athlete, made basketball his primary focus through the winter months, helping the hard-court crew as a guard to a spot in the Elite 8 at the Telus B.C. Quad A championships which concluded in mid March.
And if you look at the rest of the Saints’ roster you’ll find hockey, skiing and ultimate represented.
“It has been super-hectic and a struggle for me to find a balance between school, rugby and basketball,” said Sirlin. “But I’ve just felt that being able to work and find that balance is part of such an important learning curve in life.”
Added Scher, who had never played soccer at any level before deciding to come out for the team in 2015 as a Grade 11: “The main decision for me was to open myself up to new adventures. I would talk with my dad about things, and life is not only rugby. You have to try new things and you have to have fun.”
Scher was a complete soccer neophyte last season, but this past season, wrapped up his career with Saints by achieving a big career goal of actually scoring a goal.
“I could always kick the ball far,” said Scher who showed his leg with this past weekend’s game-winning penalty boot. “So they put me on the wing, and the one goal I scored was pretty memorable because it came against Vancouver College.”
Yet finding the time to lead their school to provincial tournaments in two other sports didn’t hurt either in their quest to represent Canada on the rugby field.
“The whole experience was surreal, from going to France, to pulling on the (Canada) jersey, to singing our national anthem,” said Sirlin, as Canada opened with a pair of losses and then beat the U.S. in its finale.
“The level of competition there was like nothing I had ever been a part of,” he continued. “I had never experienced that level of physicality before.”
And while Sirlin, Scher and No. 8 Noah King all experienced world-class competition over the course of the tournament, the match they will play along with the rest of the their teammates this weekend seems just as big.
That’s because No. 1-ranked, defending B.C. Triple A champion Shawnigan Lake comes to St. George’s on Saturday (1:30 p.m.) to meet the No. 2-ranked hosts as the 1st XV’s highlight of a four-match card involving the two schools.
The 2nd XV’s play at 12:10 p.m., the Grade 10 A squads clash at 12:15 p.m., while the Grade 10 B’s meet at 1:20 p.m.
The future seems bright for both Sirlin, who has one more year of high school remaining, and Scher, who hopes to spend next season in New Zealand playing for a club team while interning as a teacher with the hopes of playing for UBC in 2018-19.
And both say their time at Saints has only been enhanced by their multi-sport experiences.
“The comaraderie within the two sports has been incredible,” says Sirlin, “and the bonds that have grown between teammates in both of my sports are going to be everlasting for me, and I know Jack feels the same way.”
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