The F.P. Walshe Flyers girls rugby team is involved in an exchange program that is about much more than the sport itself.
A team from Sacred Heart school in Ottawa spent the past week in Fort Macleod, getting a thorough look at southern Alberta and small town life.
“They’re very impressed and they’re loving it here,” Flyers coach Andrew Walmsley said Friday. “The girls think it’s really cool.”
The Flyers have done two exchanges in the past so Walmsley was interested when he got an e-mail inviting his squad to take part again this season.
“The key of course is that philosophy of rugby that is so valuable, that you respect your opposition,” Walmsley said. “It’s such a social game. The exchange gives you the opportunity to go somewhere and do something beyond just playing the game.”
“The friendships that have been created already between the girls from Ottawa and our girls are pretty amazing,” Walmsley said.
Walmsley noted that a best friend of his daughter Cassie, who played for the Flyers while attending F.P. Walshe school, is a girl she met years ago on a rugby exchange.
“A lot of the friendships you make are life-long,” Walmsley said.
The exchange provides cultural benefits by helping girls see another part of Canada.
“A lot of our girls have never even been on a plane,” Walmsley said. “Most have never been to eastern Canada.”
“The girls coming this way, they live in the suburbs of Ottawa so they’ve never been on a farm or seen farm animals.”
That situation was addressed when the rugby players paid a visit to Curtis and Marney Delver’s farm where they had the chance to bond with newborn sheep and other animals.
The girls from Sacred Heart school in Ottawa arrived in Fort Macleod on Monday to meet their billet families.
They also visited the Town Office and The Fort — Museum of the North West Mounted Police on Monday.
On Tuesday the rugby players toured the Remington Carriage Centre at Cardston and Waterton Lakes National Park where they did sightseeing and had lunch at the Waterton Lakes Lodge.
On Tuesday night the girls watched the movie Ballerina at the historic Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod.
On Wednesday morning the Ottawa team had a guided tour of the Empress Theatre and enjoyed free time to visit the shops on Main Street.
In the afternoon the girls went to the University of Lethbridge for a tour and a training sessions with the Pronghorns coach.
On Thursday they visited a local Hutterite colony before going to the Delvers for a barbecue and tour of the farm and Marney Delver’s art studio.
The exchange program has a community service component, which the Ottawa girls filled by helping to set up the portable courts in the arena for the STARS volleyball tournament.
They went to the Girl Guides camp for a campfire, where Sandra Lamouche taught them hoop dancing and talked about First Nations culture and tradition, and Richard Feller and Vern Megli from W.A. Day school taught some archery.
On Friday the team toured Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump before heading to Taber for a two-day rugby tournament.
On Saturday night the team was entertained at Windy Rafters Barn Dance, and then boarded the plane for home on Sunday.
“It’s been really cool,” Walmsley said Friday. “They’re learning a lot about southern Alberta and doing the touristy type stuff. They’re having a really good time, enjoying themselves.”
The Flyers head to Ottawa from April 17-24, where they will tour the Parliament buildings, visit Byward Market, visit a maple sugar farm, hike in Gatineau National Park, visit the Museum of Civilization, and if time allows, tour the Canadian War Museum.
They will tour the University of Ottawa and attend a training session with the girls rugby coach.
For their community service project the Fort Macleod girls will help paint murals on an outdoor classroom at Sacred Heart school. They will also watch a school play.
They will play in a rugby tournament at Carleton University.
“There should be lots of cool things,” Walmsley said.
Exchange benefits aside, Walmsley had an ulterior motive for getting involved in the program.
“I was hoping it would recruit a few girls out to play,” Walmsley said of the incentive of a trip to Ottawa. “It did recruit quite a few Grade 9s who didn’t play last year, so that will be good. I think it will be a good builder in years to come.”
Walmsley said the presence of a large number of young players bodes well for the program in the future.
The Flyers have seven players in Grade 11 and 12, nine Grade 10s and nine Grade 9s.
The coach anticipates doing another exchange when the present crop of Grade 8 players reaches Grade 12.