Markham Rugby Football Club - The Early Years
Back L. to R. - Robb Knapper, John Parker, Mike Whittamore, Bart Meuring, Steve Kirkland, Alan Garbe, Chris Van Straten, Mark Francis, Kevin Jones (Club Captain). Front L. to R. - David Harris (Club President), unknown, John Silverthorn, Mike Clare, Jamie McKay, Andy Stone, Lee Hurst, Kelly Hastings
On 6 February a preliminary meeting was called at Markham District High School, Church Street, to find out if there was sufficient interest to start a rugby team in Markham. Several of those attending were members of the Toronto Barbarians RFC who had been driving down to Sunnybrook Park in Toronto for practices, to Fletcher’s Field, Victoria Square for home games, and wanted something closer to home, hence the incentive to have a team in the town. Rugby had been introduced into the high school at MDHS in 1975 and so there was a pool of students and ex-students that had learnt the game.
It was felt that with the existing Barbs that players and some members of the MDHS senior team there were large enough numbers locally to support a team, so an item appeared in the Economist and Sun:
The meeting took place as advertised, and with 22 people being present the Markham RFC was formally founded and an Executive elected.
Club Captain-Kevin Jones
Social secretary-Roy Vernon
Fixtures secretary-Mike Clare
The agenda outlined plans for the 1980 and 1981 seasons and the dues were set at $15 for a playing member and $10 for a social member. The home ground was at MDHS and the clubs social centre was recorded as The Duchess of Markham. This was a result of a conversation between David Harris and the owner of the pub that took place in the winter of 1979-80 before the pub had even opened. The owners opinion was that every pub should have a rugby club (in fact it was the only pub in Markham at that time), and for years thereafter social events at the Duchess were an important part of the club life.
The club applied for Ontario Rugby Union (ORU) recognition in March and this was granted, as well as approval for the club colours: grey shirt with two thin black hoops, black shorts, grey socks with black tops. This first season was to be played as exhibition games only, with the intention of joining the Toronto Rugby Union (TRU) the following year.
Practices were on Mondays and Thursdays on the grass slope behind MDHS, ample room at the time to accommodate the dozen or so players that attended. The clubs first game was against Stouffville RFC on Sunday 27 April at MDHS. There were 17 MRFC players dressed for the game and Brian Chatland was the referee, Markham winning by 21 to 0. Tries (worth 4 points in those days) were scored by Alan Garbe, Chris van Straten and Andy Stone; Kevin Jones converted all three and kicked a penalty.
The season continued with a series of other exhibition games against established clubs in the Toronto area and the team also entered the Summer League with evening games in July and August. Though successful against mostly 2nd and 3rd teams the summer matches proved tougher as they were open to all levels of player.
At the first AGM upstairs at the Duchess on the afternoon of Saturday 8 November there were 18 members present to hear the report on the last nine months of activity. By the end of the season the club had played 14 games and won 7, and it was announced that the team had been accepted into the TRU 3rd Division for 1981. The treasurer stated that there was $625.70 in the bank, with an inventory of jerseys and shorts worth $276. Indoor winter training was scheduled at MDHS for Thursdays nights. The day ended with a dance in the Penalty Box Lounge at the Markham Centennial Centre at which John Silverthorn was named Player of the Year and the 1981 Club Captain.
Thus the club seemed set for the future, though no-one could foresee how far it would progress.
The New Year began with exhibition games, including one between the MDHS Senior team and a Graduate team of ex-high school players from the club, on Sunday 3 May. The first league game was against Irish 3rd, a loss.
After losing this opening game the club rebounded to a 35 to 6 win over Toronto Scottish, and went on to play a strong league season, finishing tied for first place with York Yeomen with an 11 win, 2 loss, 1 tie record. York was awarded top spot because they held a victory over Markham, so the club entered the playoffs in second place.
In the semi-final game Markham beat Toronto Welsh by 38 to 0, and then went on to win the final against York by a score of 21 to 10 to take the Division championship.
The club had also played in the Summer League, where the results were 2 wins and 2 losses against the usual strong opposition, which contributed to the overall season total, including exhibition games, of 19 wins, 5 losses and 1 tie. The top point’s scorer for the year was Kevin Jones with 147, and the top try scorer was Colin Campbell with 13 tries.
The club had struggled throughout the year to get practice and game space, and to have the fields lined for games. Letters to the Town began an on-going battle for rugby to take its place as a new and growing sport and obtain a share of the facilities that were available. This continued for many years, but by the end of 1981 the club had established itself as a strong contender in the Toronto area and by virtue of the first place finish in the 3rd division had gained promotion into the TRU 2nd Division for 1982.
With the First XV in the TRU 2nd Division, and entered in the Carling Cup, this was going to be a more competitive season than last year. The increased number of players joining the club resulted in the formation of a second team to play in the TRU 3rd Division. As will be seen both teams rose to the challenge and proved that the club had a solid foundation.
Several club firsts were recorded for this year, including international games beginning at Easter with a bus trip to Cleveland to plays the CAPS. In July the older club members played the Caribs touring team from Trinidad, having been told they were all over-35. The Carib players were younger than expected but after an exhausting game the club managed to put up 24 points to the visitors 48. In August a school team from Banbridge, Northern Ireland was hosted by MDHS and several club players, recently graduated, were co-opted to strengthen the home side which won 13 to 7.
By the mid-season point in July the First XV were in second place and had recorded 6 wins and 1 loss, an excellent start in the higher division, while the Second XV with 1 win and 5 losses were playing good but inconsistent rugby. The newly formed Colts team, composed exclusively of players from MDHS, had started strongly into their 6 week season but due to lack of regular players had fallen behind and stood at 1 win, 1 tie and 2 losses.
Two other notable firsts occurred during the summer, the first club player was sent off the field by a referee (for fighting, a one month suspension), and Norm Shaw, a pilot in the Reserve, arrived at the away game in Ottawa by helicopter, an event which greatly impressed his team mates and the opposition.
In August at a special General Meeting the club adopted a constitution thus further formalising the organization to support the playing membership.
By October the First XV had a 12 win, 1 loss record, with the Seconds improved to 5 wins, 7 losses.
Because of their records in the league and in the Cup games the First XV qualified to play in two semi-finals at the end of the year, the TRU and the Old Vienna Cup consolation round of the Carling Cup. As luck would have it they were scheduled on the same day so the club opted to play in the more prestigious OV Cup, losing a hard fought game to the Saracens by 29 to 0.