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Pride of Warsaw to play for Canada

by Rory Gilfillan

Mike Burke, coach of the Pagans Women’s Rugby team, was looking for speed. In the small town of Warsaw, a community where children grow up going to school together before matriculating to Lakefield District Secondary School, Burke knew most of the kids in the area. In a town the size of Warsaw it was impossible not to.

Burke had coached Hannah Darling in hockey and on his daughter’s recommendation, decided to ask her to try rugby. It turned out to be a watershed moment for Hannah Darling.

“She wasn’t just fast,” recalls Burke, “but hit harder than anyone I had ever seen.”

Since Darling first stepped on to the pitch four years ago her rise to the captaincy of the Under-20 Canadian women’s rugby team, has been meteoric and yet despite the international travel and the accolades that come with competing at the highest levels of the sport, Darling is quick to credit her parents, coaches and teammates with her success.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere without my parents. My parents, coaches and the community pushed me to be better. When I first went out for Team Canada I was the youngest out there and everyone was bigger and stronger and better than me. I felt a lot less than everyone else but everyone was so supportive”, says Darling.

Rugby’s different than other sports. Unlike hockey or even soccer, rugby players learn the sport with a club before taking their shot at the next level. Local rugby players will begin their careers with the Pagans; aspire to the provincial, national or interuniversity level in their prime, and then eventually return to where they started to either continue playing or to coach. In rugby the line between sport and community is impossible to define and according to long-time Pagan’s coach Burke, it may be this sense of belonging that has appealed to Darling’s small-town values.

“Darling’s humble but she’s not quiet. She avoids talking about herself. She gives credit to others. She’s outgoing and despite wearing the team Canada uniform, when she shows up on a Saturday to play in a club game or practice, she’s just Hannah from Warsaw.”

Beyond her noted athletic ability Burke believes these are the qualities of a great captain. Rugby Canada agrees and Darling will be next representing Canada at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China in August.

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