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Sportspage cover story: Colts crave home crown
Created On: May 8, 2017
The Ashbury Colts hosted a CAIS national independent schools’ tournament in April. The Colts girls were champions, while the boys, captained by Cam Butterfield (in photo) continued to build towards the June 1-3 OFSAA boys’ rugby championships in Ottawa, where they’ll look to upgrade back-to-back bronze medals for a first provincial gold. Photo: Dan Plouffe

South Africa tour buoys Ashbury quest for elusive boys’ rugby gold prior to 2017 OFSAA in Ottawa

By Dan Plouffe

It’s already been a special year for Ashbury boys’ rugby team: with a pre-season tour of South Africa, hosting teams from across the country for the Apr. 21-23 Canadian Accredited Independent Schools rugby tournament, and also marking Canada’s 150th birthday and their school’s 125th graduating class.

But Colts captain Cameron Butterfield has one more wish to make his final year at Ashbury even more special – he wants to win his school’s first-ever OFSAA high school provincial boys’ rugby title in front of a home crowd come the June 1-3 championship tournament at Twin Elm Rugby Park.

“We’re definitely hoping for gold,” signals the Team Ontario rugby player, noting Ashbury has dropped close semi-final matches in back-to-back years en route to bronze medal finishes. “We’ve been right there twice now and we just can’t break it, but we really want to break it this year and get to the final game.”

This time, they can anticipate having home field advantage, which proved valuable the last time Ottawa hosted OFSAA boys’ rugby in 2013 as the Colts scored the first boys’ medal in program history, a bronze. Practically, being in town means players should be able to manage exam season without having to skip a trip out of town like in past years.

“Hopefully we’ll have our full team there, fully-rested being in your own homes and your own beds,” adds Butterfield, whose squad is favoured to grab one of two host entries to provincials along with either Brookfield or Cairine Wilson in the ‘A/AA’ ranks.

The Colts have already enjoyed some excellent opportunities prior to national capital league play beginning. In March, 31 players spent 13 days around Cape Town, visiting top-notch rugby facilities in one of the sport’s hotbeds. Ashbury won one of their exhibition games and got “hammered” in several others, recounts Colts coach Ian Middleton, though overall the opportunity for skill development was most important.

“For me, the rugby’s great, but the kids end up in townships working with underprivileged youth as well as playing games. That is a huge eyeopener for the boys,” Middleton underlines. “To go somewhere where there’s kids playing in bare feet for the joy of sport, and they can give something to them, it’s really big for character development. By the end of these sessions, I’m not sure who has a bigger smile: the township kids or our own Ashbury kids.”

Back home for the first-ever CAIS rugby tournament in Ottawa, Ashbury welcomed teams from as far west as Victoria and as far east as Lennoxville, Que.

“It’s really good preparation,” notes Butterfield. “We get to play against teams that are as good, if not better, than the teams we’ll be facing at OFSAA.”

Born in London, England, Butterfield played rugby from age 5-9, but then stopped for several years once he moved to Canada since there was essentially no rugby for that age group.

But come Grade 9 at Ashbury, he got back into it, and later joined the Bytown Blues club, played for Eastern Ontario (winning gold at the Eastern Canadian championship), then Ontario, and attended a national team camp.

“I’m glad I came to this school in hindsight, because rugby is a big thing here,” states Butterfield. “We have so many great coaches who are really experienced with rugby, many of whom have played for Canada or professionally. It shows in the program because it’s been strong for so many years.”

Ashbury’s rugby rise began in 2000 under Middleton and now-University of Ottawa Gee-Gees coach Jen Boyd on the girls’ side. Boyd’s teams won four Ontario high school titles and five more medals in an 11-year span, while Middleton’s boys began making their mark provincially as well, including their current streak of 3 podiums in 4 years.

There is now a very strong “rugby culture” at Ashbury, now the school’s sports program with the most participants, Middleton indicates.

“It seems now rugby is the game of choice,” he says, also highlighting the exceptional support of school staff, volunteers and parents involved in the program. “There’s nothing nicer than a spring day at Ashbury and you get 100 or 200 people out on the field. It kind of has a festival atmosphere about it. It’s really a community thing that brings the whole school together.”

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