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AFL club officially expands into Whistler

Hawks rebrand to recognize Sea to Sky contributors

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The British Columbia Australian Football League's youngest team is, officially, looking northward in an attempt to take flight.

The newly minted Vancouver-Whistler Hawks, born in 2009 as the North Delta Bayhawks, have had their ups and downs in recent seasons, primarily due to difficulty drawing players.

But Whistler resident Benjamin Wilson, who has played with the team since 2013, started recruiting Australians to help round out their ranks. By his count, roughly half the team is based in the resort and travels south for practices and games.

In recognition of Whistler's contributions — and in the hopes of deepening the community connection — the club decided to officially bring Whistler into the fold.

Wilson, who is also the club's vice-president, said the team has discussed hosting one of its July games at Myrtle Philip Community School.

"We'll hopefully get that sorted and have one in July so we can involve the Whistler community in the B.C. Australian Football League," he said. "And hopefully, when people arrive in Canada and live in Whistler or Squamish, when they search Australian rules football in Vancouver, they'll see that there's a local team close by and they can join in on weekly practices and games."

For the uninitiated, Wilson describes the sport as a mix of other, more familiar games.

"It's essentially a mix of lacrosse and rugby," he said. "(Unlike rugby), it's a 360-degree game, so you can be anywhere on the field.

"There's a lot of tackling and hitting, so it's more physical than soccer."

Other clubs in the men's senior league are the Burnaby Eagles, Vancouver Cougars (who have two teams), West Coast Saints, Seattle Grizzlies and Victoria Sharks.

Wilson said the Seattle trip, in particular, is a highlight of the season.

The Hawks practice once a week and have games scheduled biweekly.

Wilson said while the hope is to draw players who can play and practice each and every time out, the club understands the nature of living and working in Whistler, and not every Saturday will be an option for some.

"As with any sport, you want to have some reliability built into your game," he said. "If you say you're going to play on the weekend, we hope you care enough to (come out)."

With the league itself having started taking shape in 2000 with the first Vancouver team, Canadian-born players have started to play — and find success — at younger ages.

The game has grown significantly in B.C. in recent years, to the point that Burnaby hosted the 2016 national tournament, which is an honour typically reserved for the Greater Toronto Area and its thriving dozen-team league.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/sea2skyhawks.

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