A pair of rugby coaches with strong ties to the Semiahmoo Peninsula are joining forces to boost the program at Bellingham’s Western Washington University.
Adam Roberts, head coach of Earl Marriott Secondary’s senior boys team, and former Semiahmoo Secondary rugby coach Paul Horne – who now coaches and teachaes in Bellingham – have now joined the rugby staff at Western Washington University, which is looking to rejuvenate its rugby program.
Roberts, who has helped out at WWU informally for the past two years, will serve as head coach of the university’s men’s sevens team, while Horne will serve as rugby director, overseeing both the sevens and 15-a-side teams.
And while Roberts is thrilled with the opportunity to coach stateside – the sport has skyrocketed in popularity since being added to the Summer Olympic roster, he said – it’s easy to tell, when speaking with him, that’s he’s equally excited about working alongside Horne, who was Roberts’ coach when the latter captained Semiahmoo’s rugby team in the late ‘90s.
Horne is a familiar name to those in Peninsula rugby circles, having coached at Semi for 23 years. He left in 2002 and since then has taught elementary school in Bellingham, while also coaching club rugby with Chuckanut Bay RFC.
Since 2010, he’s also served as forwards coach at UBC.
“Paul Horne is the man. He’s the godfather of rugby on the Peninsula, he really is,” Roberts said.
“He’s so integral to rugby down there, and when he was here, he was basically the catalyst for rugby here on the Peninsula. All this stuff – the reason the sport is so big here – it’s because of what he started.”
Horne, who played at Western Washington from 1972-’73, said he wasn’t looking for a new gig, and was quite happy – despite the commute – coaching at UBC. But the chance to work closer to home, at his alma mater, and to reunite with Roberts, however, was too good an opportunity to pass up, he said.
“Adam and I have always stayed in contact, always talked rugby. We’d had numerous discussions, but I was quite content at UBC. I liked it a lot,” Horne said.
“But about a month ago, this opportunity came up, and I thought it’d be fun to work with Adam again. He’s just so enthusiastic about rugby, and about this opportunity. I know when Adam’s excited about something, because all his emails start with, ‘Dude…’
“We have a long relationship, and I just love his energy.”
Roberts will continue his teaching and coaching duties at EMS – he’s also the athletic director – and while that makes for a busy schedule, he insists it’s worth it.
“I leave here in the morning at 5 a.m, go down there and coach the sevens team in the morning, then come back here to Marriott for the day,” he explained.
He was sold on the WWU program after taking a trip with the sevens team to a tournament at Texas A&M for nationals last season.
“We go down there, and there were banners everywhere – ones that said ‘Your Olympic journey starts today’ and ‘The road to the Olympics is now’ and stuff like that. American pomp and circumstance was everywhere – it was so fun,” he said.
“It really changed my view of rugby and what it could be. Up here, it’s pretty big, well-organized and everyone has fun, but down there, they’ve just made it this huge thing.”
Having lived in the United States for 35 years, Horne, who is married to an American and who lived in Bellingham while teaching at Semiahmoo, can seen the rugby culture change in recent years, and he’s confident he and Roberts can get the program to where it’s among the best on the college scene.
Horne, who helped recruit former South Surrey high-school rugby standout – and multi-sport star – Liam Murphy-Burke to UBC prior to last season, thinks he and Roberts will be able to attract a number of top players, from both sides of the border, to the Bellingham campus.
“Recruiting is sometimes a tough job, but here, I think it’s a pretty easy sell,” Horne said. “It’s a great school, a beautiful campus, and we’ve got a brand-new, 1,500-seat stadium… people come here and are surprised, they all say how great it is.”
Roberts said Horne’s lengthy coaching resume should also attract top players to the team. In addition to his years at Semiahmoo, Horne also coached B.C.’s U19 team for eight years, winning a national title in each, and has also coached national teams at the U19, U21 and U23 levels.
“He has so many connections, and he’s such a great human being – a guy that everyone really just loves – people are just drawn to him,” Roberts explained.
“He’s a great fit for Western Washington. Everyone knows him, he’s got a fantastic reputation in the rugby community, so he can bring in talented kids, bring in alumni, bring in sponsorship where needed, it’s going to be great.”
And though he may not have quite same amount of coaching experience as Horne, Roberts’ resume is impressive, too.
Earl Marriott’s senior boys team has been among the best in the province each of the past few season since Roberts took hold of the team, and he’s also coached at the club and provincial levels.
“Well, he did have a pretty good model to follow,” laughed Horne.