WHITE ROCK - For our latest First XV Volunteer, rugby isn't just a sport, it's his way of life. Rugby has taken Andy Blackburn around the world where he has toured to Zimbabwe, Australia, Singapore, Denmark and through the UK. In 2000, he relocated from England to South Surrey where he has been instrumental in developing Bayside Athletic Association's Age Grade programs and has spent the last decade giving back to the sport.
In recent years Andy could be found on the sidelines at South Surrey Athletic Park where he has spent countless sundays coaching age grade club sides. Currently involved in this year's Bayside U14 coaching staff, Andy is also the Lower Mainland U17 league coordinator where he has dedicated his time drafting schedules and launching the 2012 fall season. This past summer Andy was also the Host Event Chair for Rugby at the BC Summer Games hosted in Surrey, a seven-a-side tournament featuring hundreds of BC representative athletes.
"Being able to work with teenagers at an impressionable and crucial time in their lives is incredibly rewarding," Blackburn said of his volunteering experience. "Not only are we able to give them strong foundations and core skills of being excellent rugby players, but more importantly, we can teach them through rugby important life values such as integrity, character and respect."
BC Rugby Provincial Coach and Development Manager Dave Brown has worked alongside Blackburn in his roles as Host Event Chair and a provincial team selector.
"Andy has had a tremendous influence on the development of Bayside’s Age Grade program," said Brown. "He has a great knowledge of the game in this context. He has also been involved in working with athletes on a regional level and helping with selection for the BC U16 Program [this past summer]."
We caught up with our latest First XV Volunteer and this is what he had to say...
1. How long have you been involved as a volunteer with rugby? How did you first get involved with Bayside?
Since emigrating to Canada back in 2000 - I coincidentally met a rugby player on Galiano Island on Day 1 who saw my Hong Kong Sevens jersey and told me about Bayside in White Rock as being a good young club. The next week, we left the Island and headed to White Rock, watched a game between Bayside and Pacific Pride and the same afternoon rented a house unseen on the corner of Bayside's SSAP fields. The rest is history.
2. Why is volunteering important to you and why have you dedicated so many hours to the Bayside and the age grade programs?
Because rugby is a way of life, not just a sport. It builds character in young men and women that set them apart in the workplace, social situations and the community at large. Being able to work with teenagers at an impressionable and crucial time in their lives is incredibly rewarding. Not only are we able to give them the strong foundations and core skills of being excellent rugby players, but more importantly we can teach them through rugby important life values such as integrity, character and respect.
3. What is the secret to balancing so many hours of rugby with your professional life?
A wife who makes Mother Teresa look like "Jamie Cudmore" and being self-employed borderline unemployed with no care for material wealth, toys or a fancy house. A perfect recipe really.
4. Can you tell us a bit about your playing career?
I played both Rugby League and Rugby Union in England. I was one of the few players to play both codes of rugby in the late 80's and early 90's when Union and League still weren't talking to each other. I come from a Rugby League family where the previous three generations had all represented the famous Leeds Rugby League club - now The Leeds Rhinos. I was fortunate enough to represent England and Great Britain Students in Rugby League and captain Yorkshire Colts in Rugby Union. I was fortunate enough to experience many rugby tours - a big reason many of us play this game - including Zimbabwe, Australia, Singapore, Denmark, Germany, Wales and Ireland but was forced to retire in my mid 20's with a serious back injury. I walked away from rugby completely for several years until I arrived in Canada in 2000 with my wife and two young boys and knew that my future lie in coaching and giving back to a game that had given me so much for 20 years.
5. What positions have you played and which one is your strongest?
I played prop as a mini rugby player, centre and wing as a young teenager and back-row as an adult in rugby union. I played loose-forward and stand-off half in rugby league. I would say that I was an all-rounder - a jack of all trades. This is why I love coaching, as I believe I have a very good perspective of all positions - from the "dark arts" of the front row to the "performing arts" of the three-quarters.
6. Have you ever played/coached/volunteered at another rugby club other than Bayside?
I played rugby union for several clubs in The UK and Europe including Morley, Roundhay (now Leeds), Vale of Lune and Hamburg Exiles in Germany. I have helped coach both senior and junior high school rugby at Bayside's local feeder schools, EMS, Semiahmoo, Southridge and very recently I have offered to help at Elgin Park, where both my sons currently play. I am currently enjoying my new role coaching Rugby League at the men's level for both Bayside Sharks and The BC Bulldogs.
7. Who is your favourite Canadian rugby player?
I would say without a doubt - Adam Kleeberger. Not because he is a Semi Grad and a Bayside player, but because he has shown what can be achieved through hard work, courage and incredible skill. 15 years ago, Canada and other International teams would never have entertained an open-side flanker of the physical stature of "Kleebs". It says a lot for how far the game has come that we are now rewarding skill, work rate and statistics that always paint the true picture as opposed to selecting a player just because he looks the part physically. RWC 2011 proved Adam to be a genius in the way he marketed himself, Canada and rugby as a whole with his infamous beard - bloody brilliant!
8. Who is your current favourite rugby player and why?
Israel Dagg - the NZ Full-Back. Every time he gets his hands on the ball you never know what is going to happen next. Rugby needs players like Dagg who have fans on the edge of their seats every time a player touches the ball. Young Canadian players need to model themselves on these rugby mavericks in order to truly develop their skills without fear of retribution from their coaches. Otherwise Canada will never produce the likes of Quade Cooper, Sonny Bill Williams, Kurtly Beale, Waisele Serevi and Israel Dagg.
9. Do you see yourself leaving the game of rugby any time soon?
In a coffin maybe. I hope they put a rugby ball in it with me and a pint... no make it a keg of Guinness.
10. What is your greatest rugby memory either as a player or as a volunteer?
Way too many to remember! As a player, it has to be the numerous rugby tours and weekends away with a 4 week Zimbabwe tour being a highlight. But I would say that coaching has trumped my playing memories. Having spent the last 3 years coaching 56+ Bayside players (now the current Bayside U17 team) and watching them all develop into highly skilled rugby players as well as fine young men shows me the real impact you can have on this great game and the young players in it. These lads are a fantastic testament to Rugby and to our Community as a whole and I am incredibly proud to have been a part of their development in both of these aspects.
The First XV Volunteer Appreciation program is an initiative designed to recognize the valuable pillars of our membership that help keep our sport afloat. Over the course of the season we will recognize 15 valuable members of the community. Each recognized volunteer will be presented with a "thank you" item, a customized BC Rugby Umbrella. Each individual will then receive another 10 thank you BC Rugby travel mugs to show their appreciation to the 10 top volunteers that work alongside them in their club.