Hall of Fame nod caps long career as player and coach

Local rugby legend receives ultimate honour

Rick Stiebel

News Staff

While the awards and accolades are memorable, it’s what rugby has meant to Mark Wyatt off the pitch that matters most.

“All of the meaningful things in my life are the result of the connections I made through the sport,” said Wyatt, who was inducted into the Canadian Rugby Hall of Fame in April after a long, storied career as a player and coach.

“I don’t think anyone plays sports with the intention of receiving these kind of awards or has that as an objective when they set out,” the Victoria resident noted. “But it’s a wonderful achievement for anyone who receives it. It acknowledges your contribution to the sport, and it’s absolutely humbling to join such select company. From my perspective, the highest honour an athlete can achieve is being recognized by your sport’s governing body.”

READ ALSO: Rugby’s Wyatt entering B.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Several significant moments stand out for Wyatt whenever he looks back on his playing days, which were followed by many years coaching youth, middle school and clubs, as well as some time with the Canadian national team.

Wyatt first got involved in the game when he was a 15-year-old at Lansdowne High School. His coach at the time, Darryl Novellette, played for Canada and the James Bay Athletic Association.

“That started a long-term relationship with James Bay and coach Tillman Briggs. When I went to Oak Bay High, my coach was Gary Johnson, who was captain of the James Bay team. They were all major influences at a critical time in my life on and off the field.”

Wyatt remembers the challenges he faced playing first division soccer as well as rugby in high school. “I was heading to UVic and got to the point where the demands of both sports were pulling me in different directions,” he said. “It was a difficult decision, but Gary Johnson convinced me to leave soccer behind and choose rugby.”

Bruce Howe, the University of Victoria rugby coach at that time, was holding tryouts for a national team tour of Japan in 1981. The number one prospect at fullback wasn’t available for the trip. That opened the door for Wyatt to move up a spot from number three and be included on the trip. The number one prospect tore his hamstring in the first game in Japan, which enabled Wyatt to move up to starting fullback, a position he held for a decade.

READ ALSO: Greater Victoria rugby players named to national Hall of Fame

“That was a pivotal moment for me,” Wyatt said. ”It’s fascinating looking back at how that worked out.”

Wyatt went on to earn 29 caps, which signify participation in international games, during that 10-year run. “By contrast, someone with a 10-year career now would probably accumulate in excess of 80 caps. That shows how far the sport has come and how much it’s grown.”

Wyatt stressed that none of his accomplishments, including induction into several other sports hall of fames, would have been possible without the coaches, teammates, managers, physiotherapists and others who have made significant contributions, many behind the scenes.

“I’ve been fortunate to have such a great supporting cast. That especially includes my beautiful wife, Claire. Accidentally leaving her out of my acceptance speech was bad enough,” he added with a guilt-riddled chuckle. “So it’s really important to do damage control this time around.”

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