One of the best-kept secrets in UTM sports may just be our rugby team. The attendance at games may not be near what sports like soccer or basketball receive, but the team has managed to repeatedly make a splash in U of T intramurals, including their 2013/14 campaign, where the team made it to finals and lost with a kick that came up short. For a game that requires as much skill and stamina as football, albeit with a little less flair, the sport seems to be picking up some followers around campus, and that’s pleasing to sophomore coach Craig Burkett.
Hailing from Waterloo, Ontario, Burkett has lived in Toronto for the past 14 years, studying aerospace and engineering sciences at the St. George campus and earning a master’s degree in statistics. In Burkett’s first year as faculty at UTM, he taught statistics courses and volunteered to coach the rugby team—an odd pairing if ever there was one. Burkett became the only professor at UTM to also coach an intramural team, breaking down the barrier between his two roles after realizing that his love for the game was too strong to put on the backburner. Surprisingly, Burkett had no prior experience coaching rugby, a factor that didn’t seem to hinder the team’s success last year. In an odd twist of fate, it was Burkett’s old rugby team that UTM lost to in the finals—the Engineers. While playing for the Engineers during his time at U of T, Burkett held the position of intramural sports chairman for two years, coaching intramural soccer in his spare time.
“I may not have a lot of experience coaching, but I love [rugby] and I do my homework,” he said. Despite the bitter end to an otherwise successful season, Burkett was happy with how the sport was received on campus. “Compared to St. George, there’s a lot more people watching at UTM,” he said, a factor that he believed helped propel the team deep into the post-season.
Burkett does not find it hard to live his double life at UTM; he is able to be both a professor and a coach without having either world encroach on the other. “There was only one student who played for me and was in my class,” he joked. “There’s not a lot of people who play rugby and take statistics.” Juggling these two roles seems demanding enough, but Burkett has proved to be somewhat of a renaissance man with his fingers in a lot of different pies. He is both an avid classical pianist and choir member, though he hasn’t been able to continue practising as much as he’d like to.
In terms of his physical capabilities, Burkett is consistently pushing himself to the limits. In 2007 and 2008 he competed in Canadian National Track and Field and Olympic Trials in the Decathlon, and he tries to keep himself active throughout the year in any way he can. In April he completed the Fort Knox challenge, a gruesome physical challenge that involves completing six Wipper circuits over the course of one day. The Wipper circuits were developed by Professor Kirk Wipper, a faculty member in the School of Physical and Health Education in 1950, making this a uniquely U of T–based physical challenge. Burkett successfully completed and blogged about it on the Hart House Tumblr page.
His priorities at the moment include his upcoming wedding, which will take place this fall, and his statistical consulting business, Burkett Statistical Consulting, which has been running for three years now after he started it in his final year of graduate school.
Make sure to catch Burkett and his boys on the field this fall as they look to pick up from where they left off last year. Tryouts will start next week and, according to Burkett, “Rugby typically doesn’t cut anybody.” He also vows to teach those unfamiliar with the sport how to play it, and hopes to get some newcomers to fill in for the graduating students. Meanwhile, he plans on continuing to play rugby while transitioning into volleyball and squash over the next few months—“If anybody is looking for a squash partner.”