By Brian Lowe, Date: 19/3/18 (Photo Credit Carolyn Ritchie)
Establishing women’s and junior rugby league programs in Ontario are two of the main items on the to-do list of the only female executive in the game in Canada.
Carolyn Ritchie is now into her second year as president of the Ontario Rugby League and says the focus is twofold – to grow the sport and the league.
Ritchie says rugby league has lost players to rugby union, injury and retirement and that has had an effect on the game’s development in Canada’s most populous province.
“We (ORL) had four teams three to four years ago, which decreased to two last year,” she said.
“We decided to post an ad for recruitment and the response has been overwhelming to say the least! We’ve had over 100 people, including men and women, who’ve contacted us with interest in playing.
“We will be adding a third team to the league this year with hopes for a fourth next season. We’re also working with the Toronto Wolfpack to grow the sport together. One step at a time though.”
Ritchie took over from former Ontario RL president and Canada Wolverines head coach Jamie Lester, who she says had a successful stint even though he operated virtually single-handedly.
“I knew I had big shoes to fill, but was up for the challenge.”
She is confident of moving the game forward in Ontario with the board of Dean Parker (Vice President), Denny McCarthy (Director, Sponsorship), Don Crawford (Secretary/Competitions), Bryan Gaensler (Director, Refereeing) and Bob Jowett (Development Officer).
Ritchie’s introduction to rugby league was not unlike that of many people in North America who discover it through someone involved in the game. In her case it was via her partner, Wolverines player Denny McCarthy.
She started taking photos of him playing, which quickly turned to full match photos as she became the official Ontario RL photographer.
“I started my own page on Facebook for gameday photos – Lil C’s Rugby Shots,” said Ritchie. “I would shoot not only the domestic games, but for Ontario and the Canada Wolverines as well.
“I really got to know the players and their families. I just felt like I needed to do more. One complaint I kept hearing was how short the season was, so I wanted to see if I could get involved to help grow the league.
“We’re not just players and members in a league, we’re a family.”
In many ways Ritchie is trailblazing as she is the only female executive, not just in Ontario, but in all of Canadian rugby league. She’s also a board member of the national governing body Canada RL.
She says she has had some fun with it by jokingly pulling out the women’s card in certain situations.
“For example, we were making decisions on the new Wolverines kit and were asked for our opinions. I loved the designs and gave my choices, but told the board that I think we should go with black socks as there are too many shades of red.
“If they come in and don’t match, it will look awful. I literally said sorry to pull out my women’s card, but the majority decided on the red socks. They came in and of course the reds didn’t match. They weren’t that bad, black just would have been the better choice.
“I was told my women’s card would be taken more seriously next time!
“On a provincial level, and with the birth of the Women’s Canada Ravens team, we (ORL) have recently brought on a player, Petra Woods, to sit in on our board discussions and help us start up a women’s program in Ontario.”
Ritchie says being president of the provincial rugby league feels empowering.
“Let’s face it, women and men think differently,” she added.
“Bringing in a variety of perspectives, backgrounds and experiences can be key to an organization’s success.
“I think by having gender diversity on a board, it allows a variety of viewpoints to be considered.”
The new Ontario season is tentatively set down to run from April 22 through June 9. Anyone interested in playing can contact the league directly at firstname.lastname@example.org