By Kimberley Robb
Seventeen year old Zachary Shurtleff is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the world of rugby. A member of the Burlington Centaurs Rugby Club, he tore up the field playing not only in the U18 division but also for the mens first team.
Although for many this would be considered an amazing feat, his greatest accomplishment to date is the exchange program that he attended at Mount St. Mary’s College boarding school in Derbyshire England from September 3 to December 7.
“As you can only image it came as a huge surprise to me when I received a phone call asking if I could be in England within the next 24 – 48 hours…the panic of buying clothes, packing my bags, and purchasing tickets never truly hit me until I was on the plane flying to my new school,” said Shurtleff. “I was very nervous about becoming homesick but I had my whole future to look forward too and this wasn’t something I was about to push aside.”
The school, one of the best in England, proved to be a positive experience for Shurtleff’s rugby career. Constantly with the team and undergoing team- bonding activities helped make the trip across seas a worthwhile experience. Shurtleff has made friends overseas that he has continued to keep in touch with today.
“It was a very open place for me to travel to. Everyone was especially welcoming and there were five or six other first year students so I wasn’t the only newbie to attend. Four of my new team \mates were from Chili and were strong and understood the game well. My roommate, Nicky Powell, played number 8 and was great when it came to showing me around the campus and introducing me to the squad and fellow classmates.
In comparison to his Canadian schedule Shurtleff expressed that the British are far more intensive than he expected. Training four times a week and playing twice meant that school work came secondary to the sport.
“…As soon as I met Mr. Griffiths at the school he told me to strap on my boots because practice was in an hour, from 2-5:30. It was definitely an eye opener to what the program was going to be like and it involved a lot of hard work.”
The kids found that their rigorous schedule helped to keep up with school work rather than being left to their own devices.
“It was a very structured environment,” Shurtleff shared. “We didn’t really have time to think about what to do, we were just told and our day was filled with schooling, rugby and then homework.”
The schooling aspect of the exchange didn’t affect Shurtleff as his courses aren’t transferable to Canadian schools. Instead, he used the time to get ahead in the courses he would be taking back in Canada.
Shurtleff was under the guided hands of head coach Mr. D. Griffiths and assistant coach Mr. O. Cobbe. When asked about what rugby overseas was like Shurtleff was very animated with his response.
“The pace of the game was much faster than here in Canada. The game itself is also taken more seriously, a loss isn’t just a loss. The coaches do not sugar coat their opinions of your skills. They let you know when you are doing something wrong.”
Shurtleff learned that there is far more to rugby than just out running his opposition, or being the stronger man. Coaches reinforce the basics, “without them there is no foundation”. Skills, he discovered were more valuable than size. He was drilled on how to read the entire field, and that patience was a virtue being encouraged to work the ball instead of constantly smashing the opposition.
“If you were a member of the team you were expected to know every position, not only your own. A skill that made the bond between players greater.”
This bond clearly worked well for their team as they finished first in England and Wales.
Although his initial trip was sponsored by the Burlington Centaurs, Shurtleff hopes for the opportunity to return to St. Marys in the near future.
“I plan this time to work harder on sponsorships, work to raise some money and find a way to have the credits that I earn over seas transferred over to my Canadian school.”