In the beginning, the concept of having a junior program was as foreign to the Pirates, as the game of rugby was foreign to local Edmontonians. Initially, it was a prosperous time for the Pirates, as our ranks continued to grow without a major recruitment effort.
The club peaked during the 1970’s with fielding senior men’s sides in four divisions. As the game grew, club members began contributing their time and effort to coaching and developing the game at the high school level. Even though a junior league was still nonexistent at that time, our club gained by becoming the next step for progression of eager high school players.
In the 1970’s, the first high school players to join the team, originated from Archbishop MacDonald Catholic High School, with such notables as Blaine Cassios, the Spelliscy brothers, John Henderson and Terry Connelly. Then, the next group of high school players to join the club came from Salisbury High School under the tutelage of Bob Mallett, consisting of players like David George, Tom Madsen, and Colebe Massie. Some of these players became upstanding leaders on the field and off by becoming involved later in the operation and administration of the club.
There was a mere trickle of high school players to the club until the early 1980’s. Then, another group of friends came from M.E. Lazerte. The next few years brought out additional high school friends and juniors, especially from M.E. Lazerte.
With the recognition that the future of the Pirates had shifted toward northeast Edmonton, the 1990’s saw a concentrated effort for junior recruitment with coaching efforts at Ft. Saskatchewan, Queen Elizabeth, while maintaining M.E. Lazerte. Initially, this surge brought out numerous juniors from all our schools, and we briefly flourished with both an U-17 and an U-19 side for several summer seasons.
Recently, it’s been more of a struggle in high school and junior recruitment, as the commitment level to rugby has been declining. A recent highlight has been the budding friendships with foreign junior players, who continue to come over, due to the positive experiences in the past, as part of an international touring side, or simply as an exchange player.
Over the last few decades, a number of talented juniors from the Pirates were selected for the Edmonton and/or Alberta rep sides; this would include the U-17, U-19 and U-21 teams. We are very proud of their efforts and their representation of the club. For several years, through many of the highs and lows, Wilk Mah took on the responsibility of junior development to help strengthen the future of the club. We thank him and all the others who have coached, guided and shaped these young men into the players they have become.
Junior rugby has always been a challenging venture for the Pirates. Our successes have been limited, but they succeeded because of the leaders and the groups of friends that have found rugby to be a common bond outside of high school. The benefits of a junior side to the club have been tremendous, both on and off the field of play. Many have the potential to lead the Pirates into the future.