Despite being ten thousand kilometres from home — amid a global health emergency — the Lord Tweedsmuir rugby team took the uncertainty that surrounded them in stride.
“It was business as usual for us,” said Tweedy head coach Jamie Overgaard after returning home from a shortened rugby tour to the U.K. “All our guys were being hosted by Welsh families, and we were all aware of what was going on, but everyone was really calm about everything.”
Overgaard said most of what was happening was beyond their control. So the team was staying the course as best as they could.
“We were monitoring the situation and getting timely updates from our host coaches,” Overgaard noted. “They were really on top of the situation and were going out of their way to make sure we had the latest info.”
He said the team was having a great visit and their host families were taking care of them.
And while Overgaard and his assistants, Ben Walker and Tim Oswin, were aware of the increasing uncertainty at home and in Europe, they balanced the need to keep the kids up to speed on what was relevant with the need to try to insulate them from some of the stress the situation had caused.
“I think they showed a lot of strength and understanding throughout the trip,” added Overgaard, “even when they were told we were cancelling the rest of the trip and heading home.”
Overgaard said the school’s rugby tour was progressing fairly smoothly before the COVID-19 situation escalated and the tour unravelled before their eyes.
Tweedy was supposed to play four games and compete in the Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s Tournament. The Rosslyn Park 7s is the world’s largest school rugby tournament, attracting just under 10,000 athletes from nearly 1,000 schools.
But the team only got to play one game. They played their first match against Pontypool United RFC and then headed to Cardiff to take in a Six Nations game at Millennium Stadium.
It wasn’t until the Six Nations game between Wales and Scotland was cancelled that the crisis started to sink in for the coaches and players. The team had tickets for the March 14 game, but were left wondering when it was called off.
Overgaard said he heard from the superintendent’s office the next morning on March 15.
“We got a call saying, ‘The superintendent wants you home. We have to get you on the first flight home.’ And they took care of all the details.”
The team was then booked on flights home for the morning of March 16.
When they got to London, the airport was “pretty relaxed,” noted Overgaard. “I thought it was going to be total chaos, but it really wasn’t.”
The team arrived in Vancouver in the early hours of March 17, after flying via San Francisco.
He said getting on the flight to San Fran was equal parts relief and anxiety for everyone on the team. They were all eager to get home, but also anxious about what the flight would hold, what the connection in San Francisco would look like, and what it would be like going through screening stations in both the U.S. and at YVR.
“The boys were a little bit worried, but at the same time, they had each other,” he said. “The adversity of this brought the kids closer together and they were definitely relieved to be going through it all with their buddies.”
Overgaard said he was pretty anxious to be moving through a U.S. airport.
“I saw the reports on TV about huge lineups in U.S. airports with the CDC checking passengers,” he said. “I thought we were going to miss our Vancouver flight — I was expecting that — but it was really quite orderly.”
When Overgaard’s plane landed in San Francisco, everyone on board was told to remain in their seats.
“They took people off the plane 10 at a time.”
He said they conducted personal interviews with each person on the plane and then each person had to fill out a form.
“We had to carry that form with us until we cleared customs. At customs they asked the same questions again.”
He added they were also stopped multiple times in the airport and had to produce their forms for an inspection.
Now that the team is back home, everyone has started two weeks of self-isolation.
For Overgaard, that means moving into his garage.
“(My wife) made me a room in the garage that I get to live in,” he said. “I have a bed down here. My son put the Xbox and a bunch of games in here.”
He can’t have physical contact with anyone and must have a separate bathroom and bed.
“(My wife’s) a little worried for the kids, but she’s also worried for her mother.”
Overgaard believes the boys on the team have grown through the ordeal.
“The coaches — myself, Tim Oswin, and Ben Walker — are super happy with how the boys conducted themselves through all of this,” he said. “We’re really proud of them. They were really calm. They showed a lot of strength. They definitely bonded as a group. It was really quite easy, once the time came to leave, to get on with it and make the best of a bad situation.”
But all was not lost on the shortened tour, he added.
“Even now, the kids are saying, ‘We went pretty far to play one game, but it was worth it.’”