Pacific Pride Reunion - May 20th
Interview with John MacMillan on History of CCSD/Pacific Pride Program and Upcoming Reunion
posted May 9 2017
BCRN: Hello John I'm aware that the Pacific Pride are holding a reunion which includes the return of the original organizer and coach, David Clark and his wife Beverley. It's being held May 20th in Victoria and there's a RSVP invitation for those who were in some way connected to the Pride. I hear that 65 former players at the time of writing have confirmed attendance. I'll be interested to see the guest list as a lot of great players have come through the program.
It seems a good time for an article to go back and revisit the program and some of your memories from that time. From my understanding you were David's assistant coach and eventually took over the program when David returned to Australia.
First question is a bit open ended but will get everyone up to speed quickly. I looked through the old BCRN archives and found this article that was written in May 2005 and then updated in October 2005. Here is the link: www.bcrugbynews.com/show_news.cfm?ID=60
When you read through that and hear some of the views by former players and supporters tell me what emotions and thoughts come to mind as you relive the closing down of the Pacific Pride program?
JM: Hi Mark and thanks for doing this. Yes we are having the first reunion and the response has been pretty amazing. I’ve reached out to many folks who were connected to the program. I’ll take this opportunity to say if there are some that I’ve missed who would like to attend please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for event details.
Now to your question, there is some metric where for each person that says something there are 5 more who think the same but don’t. Regardless of which side of an issue you’re on, it’s the passion and desire that comes through. These letters reflect that. I really worry that today, after years of systematic dismissal, many folks in our game around the country have found other things to do with their time, and I mean specifically with regard to adult men’s rugby. At the time I was personally very thankful for everyone who reached out in whatever way, we tried to save the program but it was not meant to be. Clearly some pretty powerful lasting memories were formed given the response to the reunion, over 65 guys coming in from all corners of the country and beyond. Mike Pyke and Casey Dunning are flying from Australia.
BCRN: So just to go back to the beginning, the CCSD, fill us in on the dates and the process to get the program started. Who were the key players and what were the key events and dates?
JM: I arrived in 98 so the set up was complete by that time but here’s what I think happened, and apologies if I’ve got a few details out of place. Victoria hosts the Commonwealth Games in 94 and there is a legacy.
Using the legacy Ken Shields launches a multipsport development centre called the Commonwealth Centre for Sport Development (CCSD). Ken approaches different sports to pitch the creation of centralized training programs in Victoria. Several sports including rugby agree. The rugby centre was determined to be u23 with a 2 year residency.
The centre dovetailed well with current rugby plans as Rugby Canada had been developing the EADP (Elite Athlete Development Program). The players identified for the EADP became the bulk of the first class of the CCSD rugby program. Work at the time was done by Tom Jones, Dave Docherty, Bruce Howe, Roger McEwan, Mike Dinning, Mike Luke, Brian Dyer, and undoubtedly a few others, I’m going from memory and naming names so please forgive me.
Somewhere in the story Mike Dinning does a recon mission to Australia to review their program at the AIS, it is there that they meet David Clark.
The CCSD rugby program is launched in September of 96 with the likes of Baugh, Tait, Nichols etc. Chris May is the first captain and so it began.
BCRN: What were some of the highlights of the program, I remember the Germany and Chile tours taking place and the NZ all star team that visited on several occasions, that for me was a highlight. From your perspective talk about some of the highlights over the years.
JM: Firstly, it’s tough to single out a few. Any program should be measured by its total body of work, in this case, 9 years.
The program and its impact doesn’t take long to get going. 6 guys from the program make the 99 RWC squad, several turn pro, and domestically the team is competing well in the BCRU. I should stop here for a minute and tip my hat to all the clubs we played against, the bar was raised and everyone responded, it had nothing to do with money. Clubs are the backbone of the game and we worked hard to build relationships with them, not only in BC but across Canada, over the 9 years I think most would agree this worked pretty well.
Given 4 years to get going, the big day for the program is probably Nov 11th, 2000, not hard to remember.
On that day Canada beats Italy in Italy with 9 of the 22 from the program. On the same day back in Victoria the Pride, playing as Young Canada, beat the New Zealand Youth.
John Afoa, future All-Black prop was playing for the NZ side.
We’d beaten them in the mid-week 3 days before with Marcus Blumensaat (Ladysmith, BC) scoring all our points and a guy named Jamie Cudmore (Squamish, BC) playing in the second row as we expanded the squad for these games. On the Saturday game we put together 23 phases before Jamie Collins (Sarnia, ON) touched down. Later in the game the decisive blow came from a Drew Graham (Pictou County, NS) break and try.
BCRN: Of course there are the players, some great players that went through the program. Who were some of the more memorable ones from your perspective. Is there a complete list somewhere that we can publish?
JM: The complete list is probably in a box in my garage. In putting together the reunion we got to somewhere between 120-130 athletes who attended the program. One of the desired outcomes of the program was to build strength and depth in the different positions. So in a particular position like scrum half the goal was to get 5-6 guys with strong skill sets and then let competition determine the front runners. Obviously Morgan went on to have a pretty strong international and professional career but from a system perspective it was the strength and competency of the other athletes in that position that really helped strengthen Canadian rugby for many years to come. The others in the group included Fairhurst, Fleck, Frender, Miller, DiGirolamo (who we moved to centre which worked out ok) and Weingart, add to that guys like Nick Milau who were not in the program and you’ve got a pretty strong pool.
BCRN: One thing that I remember well was the community involvement of the program. I was playing with Ebb Tide over 40 team at the time and they had a great relationship with the Pride program, a number of us from that era still proudly wear the Pride jersey. Talk to us about the non-rugby side of the program, how it engaged the rugby community and how it helped players to grow outside of rugby.
JM: It started with the right philosophy and strategic framework. The Pride management committee had a rep from RC, BC and VIRU so there was a constant reminder that the integration mattered. You are not part of a system if you take your toys and go hide away somewhere out of town. The opposite happened at the Pride. We hosted all sorts of high school teams from across Canada. Clarky and I visited several provinces almost every year. The players ran mini rugby Sunday mornings and refereed local games. We invited guys in to join the team for the New Zealand Youth Games. We worked with coaches from across Canada both in their provinces and by bringing them to Victoria. We also spent time with the referees, they came to practice, we watched video together…
It wasn’t perfect but a lot of good work got done with and by a lot of good people. Why you wouldn’t embrace groups like the Ebb Tide or mini-rugby is beyond me. In our final year we toured Quebec and Ontario. We ran clinics along the way, 2000 kids and young people from Montreal to Toronto in 10 days as well as 5 games, and we raised the money ourselves. So, when you are an environment like this you know pretty quickly it’s about more than just you, it’s about the whole picture, everybody mattered, the standards mattered.
BCRN: It was a tough time when the program was cancelled and there was the finger pointing, emotions were running high as evidenced by the articles in the link above. Now over a decade later it's easier to be objective, what did Canadian rugby lose that year when the Pride was cancelled and why did it happen?
JM: Yes, it’s probably time to clear up the record on this a little, I did not speak publicly at the time. The Pride was funded by RC $80,000 and by the CCSD (PacificSport) $100,000. During each year the program ran events and fundraising to bring in another 50-100k depending on the year. The job was to coach the team and also to run the program so Clarky and I had a few hats and lots to do, add to that the National Team stuff leading into 2003... So the operating budget was maybe 250k. In the early years this was enough, when we started heading to post 2003 the financial pressure was starting to increase and then heading into 04-05, what would be the last year of the program, PacificSport (CCSD) announced it was cutting funding to the Centre by $50k, they had their reasons, rightly or wrongly.
As we headed to the conclusion of the 04/05 season PacificSport made another $50k cut. So when folks were saying things like Roger Smith killed the program that was incorrect. Rugby Canada could have saved the program and maybe should have, that is a different question, but they did not cause it to collapse they just didn’t manage the politics of it as well as PacificSport did at the time.
BCRN: Time to look the future, Rugby Canada are trying to put something together, a centralized program for XVs players. It doesn't have a lot of shape to it right now, it seems they're trying to find some identity but not completely sure where it's going. What advice would you have on how this centralized program could grow? What is your vision of what a Pacific Pride program would look like now?
JM: Firstly, I think we’re operating well below current potential across the country. I think you’d see a 20-30% bump at most levels with a little support and encouragement. This country is full of great people doing good work. I’d tap those assets.
Secondly, how players can get better when they don’t play is a mystery to me. You need the week to week video, ind/unit work to make the incremental improvements.
Programs seem to work best when they can breathe a bit, we had Pat Dunkley as an overage guy, some players were in for 1 year some for 3 years, the permanence of contracting athletes today makes me wonder how do you drop a guy? Is he fired? I wouldn’t paint a program into a corner like that. I also worry when I hear athletes are turning down invitations, we never had that, guys were targeting the Pride from early on in high school.
You could easily redo the Pride but it needs to fall under a broader strategic framework. I’ve written a paper that outlines how that could look. The thing in Langford isn’t going to work, it’s been poorly conceived. Until you figure out a Canadian strategy that considers Canadian geography and Canadian rugby you shouldn’t be anywhere near program design or competition structure, for this to happen you’re going to need some knowledgeable Canadians. Go to them with the right questions and you’ll get the data you need to inform a strategy that can be successful.
I also think there is a great opportunity for a development engine in Ontario, its structure would be very different to a Pride type set up but the potential impact is massive.
Today I hear a lot of rhetoric about ‘pathways’ and ‘daily training environments’. 20 years ago we had all this not only conceived but operational. In the end I estimate Clarky and I put 120+ guys through over 6,400 hours of training, much of it in the tram tracks. Over 40% of the program went on to play for Canada, Canada 7’s and/or professionally. The rest made all the other teams across Canada better, which was the impact.
The Pride worked because of the people and the philosophy. The program reached from coast to coast. It was an engine that developed players for many levels of the game.
May 20th is another opportunity to thank all the people that helped and to once again congratulate the athletes on their commitment and achievements. It is also a time for us to celebrate our dear friend and teammate, John Cannon. Thanks.