How Ryerson’s rugby program was born during frosh week

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By Richard Coffey

Travelling from Ryerson’s campus to the sports field at Cherry Beach is not an easy task. Unless you drive, you’re looking at a 40-minute subway and streetcar ride or more than an hour of walking. But for the 31 members of Ryerson’s rugby club who call Cherry Beach home for their practices, it’s a trip they can’t wait to make again.

 The Ryerson Rugby Club was formed two summers ago by Ian Custadillo and Rajiv Bahadur, a pair of now third-year business management students. “It started back in 2018 when Ian and I met during frosh week,” said Bahadur. “He noticed my OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) lanyard for rugby, and we got to talking and quickly became friends…From there, we got the idea that maybe we could start a rugby club at Ryerson.”

The two set to work, handling the necessary paperwork and reaching out to potential players. A critical move was connecting with Custadillo’s former high school coach Robert Brohman, who agreed to serve as the head coach for Ryerson Rugby.

“We didn’t have tryouts. It was just, ‘everyone show up’”

“I think that in helping build the program, a lot of things I did I could take away into the real world as a  business student,” said Custadillo. “When I was getting jerseys, I had to talk to a manufacturer in China to design them and get a lower price. I had to recruit people.  I had to convince Coach Brohman. It was all really fun for me.”

As the fall 2019 semester approached with every form signed and coaches and trainers in place, all that was needed was a team. With that in mind, Custadillo and Badahur quickly learned the challenges of building a team from the ground up. 

“We had a training camp in August, we got the numbers, but the talent didn’t quite seem to be there,” said Custadillo. Team captain Jake Poulin also recognized the challenge of finding players. “We didn’t have tryouts; it was just, ‘everyone show up.’”

“We got the idea that maybe we could start a rugby club at Ryerson”

Eventually, they formed a roster of close to 30 athletes. In search of a place to play, the Rugby team joined the Scholars League, a developmental league organized under Rugby Ontario that’s home to many B-Teams of more established rugby programs within Ontario University Athletics. Even in the excitement, the co-founders didn’t want to have too high expectations for their team. “It was all so new that you wouldn’t expect to win,” said Custadillo.

On Sept. 21, 2019, the Rams Rugby Club took the field for the first time against the Queen’s 4s and pulled off a surprising 14-5 victory. For Bahadur, winning that first game felt like vindication for a year’s worth of hard work. “It was surreal to think of going from two guys having the idea at frosh…to winning our first game.”

Over the rest of the season, the underdog Ryerson Rams faced the ups and downs of a fledgling club in its first season. They lost twice, once to Queen’s 3s and again in a 43-0 shellacking by the Carleton Ravens. On the other hand, they also picked up wins against Brock, York and the Royal Military College (RMC) to finish with a 4-2 record.

“We have the potential to be more than just a competitive club; we can strive for OUA status”

For Poulin, Custadillo and Bahadur, the team’s victory over RMC stands out for more than just the result on the scoresheet. “We went up to RMC, and it was raining, we were slipping and sliding in the mud,” said Poulin. “We ended up winning, and after the game, a bunch of us rented an Airbnb and hung out together.”

As the club waits for clearance to hopefully begin to play again this fall, Bahadur and Custadillo are taking the time to plan for Ryerson Rugby’s future. “We have a five-year plan,” said Custadillo. “What we want to do is start playing OUA teams, such as University of Toronto or Laurier.”

In Poulin’s mind, as captain, the next goal is establishing the culture for Ryerson’s Rugby program. “Just as a team we are working toward having set practice times, working out together, those typical university sport team things.”

Bahadur sees the future as a simple goal: “We have the potential to be more than just a competitive club; we can strive for OUA status.” With a plan in place and an end goal in sight, all Ryerson’s Rugby Club can do is wait to take the long journey back to Cherry Beach, have the opportunity to get back on the field and continue to build their program.

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