Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
The Southeast Thistles set the groundwork for rugby in this area over the past decade.
With participation levels not where they needed to be the last couple of years, a decision was made during the winter to rebrand the program and they are now known as the Eastman Warriors.
Isi Masi, one of the founding members of the Southeast Thistles more than 10 years ago, now the president of the Eastman Warriors, says the new name gives the program a fresh start. "We felt that after 10 years as the Thistles, and with no real growth, the members were in agreement that we should have a name change."
Ironically, on the field, the Thistles had become increasingly competitive, and their best season ever came last year as they made it to the semi-finals of the Premier League. But he says even though they had the talent, they were often short of players.
So the rationale behind the name change is to grow the entire program, right from the grassroots level, and this has been underway for several months now, until things paused for a few months due to COVID.
The enthusiasm for rugby in this area was plain to see at their practice and workout Monday night on the rugby field at A.D. Penner Park in Steinbach.
Under new head coach Eric Laflamme, who joined the program late last season, there were about 30 players on hand for the vigorous training session. Included in that number were several women that will be forming the first ever Eastman Warriors Women’s team (7s).
Laflamme, who comes to the Warriors highly regarded, says he chose to come to help out with the coaching because of the potential for growth in the area.
A big push is the development of the youth programs in the area and as such the Warriors announced last week that Christopher Chapman has joined the Regional Development Program as Youth Development Coordinator.
"We are both excited and humbled to have someone of Chris’ calibre join our group to lead and develop the youth development agenda within our region," said Masi.
Chapman, who has been coaching rugby for 32 years, is a certified NCCP Coach evaluator and facilitator as well as a certified World Rugby Educator. He is also the current head coach of the U18 Women’s Provincial 7s and was named the Sport Manitoba Outstanding Volunteer of the Year in 2019.
The goal is to eventually have teams formed in surrounding communities and perhaps form a local House League of sorts that would be administered by Eastman Warrior Regional Rugby.
Part of the development of the youth programs will involve flag rugby. As part of the outreach program, the Warriors will be going into various communities in the area this fall and next spring to offer programs, including in Steinbach, Niverville, Lorette, Ste. Anne and Beausejour.
Masi says they continue to be very pleased with the response and interest in their various programs they plan to offer. "Our club experienced a 275% growth in membership over last year.
Last winter the club also offered Try Rugby events throughout the region that was well attended.
As for whether rugby will be played this fall Masi said Rugby Manitoba is currently working on the Return to Play protocols and they are hopeful that they can possibly begin the season by the end of August, extending into mid-October, which would be later than normal.
Anyone who would like additional information on any of the Eastman Warriors teams or youth programs and clinics, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.