Jason Rioux runs down the wing as the play progresses (Submitted by/ Jason Scherr)

North Coast rugby highlighted by First Nations athletes

Prince Rupert found its diamonds in the rough in Jason Rioux and Dionte Stephens

From unlikely beginnings, the Prince Rupert rugby program has found two more diamonds in the rough in Jason Rioux and Dionte Stephens.

The two athletes were scouted last fall by the Thunder Rugby program, a program that places importance on Indigenous athletes.

John Lyall works as an athletic director of the Thunder program, and he stresses the importance of recruiting First Nations athletes across the country.

“Indigenous involvement in rugby is well noted throughout the world, and for some time Canada may have had an absence there,” Lyall said, “Our First Nations athletes and kids need role models and sports, rugby specifically, is a great example. Get yourself involved in rugby and you have a second family for life.”

Coach of the Thunder, Clayton Panga, made the trip from one island to another as he came from Victoria to Prince Rupert last fall.

He was immediately impressed with what he saw in both Stephens and Rioux.

“Very evasive and fast and just a very exciting all-around athlete,” Panga said when asked about Stephens.

While both athletes may be naturally gifted at the sport, neither of them saw rugby as their specialty. Stephens was a track and basketball player, while Rioux wasn’t a fan of team sports.

READ MORE: MVP of the Week — Speedy Jason Rioux aims for family greatness

“Figured I was a solo sports kind of person, and I saw one game of high school rugby and I was hooked,” Rioux said.

“I wish I was as good at basketball as I am at rugby naturally,” joked Stephens.

Stephens, in particular, didn’t have his sights set on rugby, but because of a post on social media, he decided to head to down to the field.

“I didn’t really plan on going, there was a post in our basketball Facebook group about it so I went down to watch,” Stephens said.

“I didn’t even have cleats, I just went down to watch and someone gave me cleats. I put them on, then coach Clay noticed me.”

Panga has a keen eye for spotting talented rugby players, and he has been playing since he was four.

He was born and raised in New Zealand and said that rugby there is equivalent to hockey here, and New Zealand’s Maori All Blacks national team are made up entirely of members of their Indigenous community.

Panga played on Canada’s national rugby team for years, and he sees the need to nurture the relationship with Canadian First Nations and rugby,

“We are trying to build the connection between the rugby community and the Indigenous community. We want to engage those athletes with rugby, and show them there is a pathway,” Panga said.

Both Rioux and Stephens also recognize the importance of showcasing our Indigenous athletes at all levels.

“It’s important. I take pride in being able to be a part of these things. It gives First Nations athletes the opportunity to be seen at a higher level,” Rioux said.

“It was a really cool opportunity, I can’t properly explain it, it was something I feel really good about, it’s super important. You don’t see a lot of First Nations athletes getting the spotlight, “ Stephens added.


 


nick.laws@thenorthernview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

rugby

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Canada Day investigation by RCMP

Female was transported to hospital with head injuries in Prince Rupert

Local restaurant, Fukasaku, awarded $10,000 grant

More than 1100 Canadian business applied for the relief grant

QUIZ: Put your knowledge of Canada to the test

How much do you know about our country?

AGM takes centre stage

Lester Centre presented annual reports on June 24

Evictions to resume

Landlords with existing orders can file for enforcement on July 2nd

All community COVID-19 outbreaks declared over in B.C.

Abbotsford manufacturer cleared by Dr. Bonnie Henry

B.C. First Nations vow to keep fighting after Trans Mountain pipeline appeal denied

Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Coldwater Indian Band made the application

‘Queue jumpers’ not welcome in B.C. as COVID-19 U.S. cases rise: Horgan

Premier Horgan said he’s heard concerns that Americans have stopped at Vancouver hotels instead of heading to their destination

Terrace RCMP searching for missing man

Tyler Montague last made contact with family June 24

US officer resigns after photos, connected to death of black man in 2019, surface

Elijah McClain died, last summer, after police placed him in a chokehold

Black worker files discrimination complaint against Facebook

Oscar Veneszee, Jr. has worked as an operations program manager at Facebook since 2017

Nestle Canada selling bottled water business to local family-owned company

The Pure Life bottled water business is being sold to Ice River Springs

Major B.C. salmon farm tests new containment system to curb sea lice infestations

System “essentially eliminates” contact between wild and farmed fish stocks, says Cermaq

Most Read