A club on the rise
Words: Harry Johnson Images: Jeff Wood
You're not a forward, you're not a back, you are a Blackswan. They are the words that bind this club together, founded in 1991 the club has competed in the South West Ontario leagues since its inception.
Fielding men's, women's, junior's and mini's (AKA Cygents) teams the club puts the community at its heart. Located in the town of Stratford Ontario, home to the largest Shakespearian Festival in North America, a visitor to Stratford might not necessarily have heard of the Blackswans. That changed in 2019 when the men's team won the regional B division and gained promotion into the A division. Commercial partnerships with Bentleys Bar and Inn, Heckman Renovations, and Little Big Creative ensured the off-field success mirrored that on the field. Whilst at the time the club was full of optimism the arrival of COVID-19 in the Spring of 2020 put these plans on hold.
Fast forward three years and the club is still going from strength to strength. Guided by club President Aaron Parsons, Head Coach Jeff Wood, and Captain Jeff Wood Jr the club successfully navigated the pitfalls of covid. The author of this article produced a report analysising the sustainability of grassroots rugby in the pandemic, of which the Blackswans were a featured casestudy. The report concluded that financial stability post-COVID hinged on the clubs' ability to return to the pitch as soon as possible.
The player partnership with the University of Nottingham Rugby Union Club, which dates back to 2013, is firmly back up and running. This partnership typically sees two to three Nottingham students spend their summers at the club playing and coaching. Several Blackswan have also been selected to represent the South West Rebels a regional select team, which is recognsied as a development pathway for the Toronto Arrows. Under the coaching guidance of Jeff Wood, the club is developing a crop of young talent who will only contribute to the club's success. One such youngster is Neil Trainor who recently competed in the OUA Final for Queen University, whilst Seth Powell is sure to have an impact at Guelph University in the future.
The Blackswans face Hamilton, Sarnia home and way, and Fergus in their final four games of the 2022 season. Win, lose, or draw the result is not what matters. It is the fact that these fixtures represent how far the Blackswans have come in recent years. The club is certainly on the rise once again, something which the players, coaches, and town of Stratford are all grateful for.