Flemming will be one of the key veterans on a young Gee-Gees team this year. Photo: Provided
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Gee-Gees men’s rugby player looks to help carry team to a national championship

Growing up in Belleville, Ont., James Flemming was drawn to football from a young age. In Grade 9, he decided to take his chances and try out for the Moira Secondary School football team. But when Flemming walked into the locker room and saw the players he’d be fighting for a spot on the field with, he decided football might not be for him.

Flemming opted for playing soccer and hockey in the fall of Grade 9 instead. Nevertheless, his athleticism was noticed by the school’s rugby coach, who decided to give him a shot on the pitch. It was a chance well-worth taking, as Flemming would go on to play rugby all through his time in high school, eventually coming full circle and ending up on the school’s football team.

A football scholarship led Flemming to the University of Ottawa as a safety/softback out of high school. But the athlete fell victim to a bad knee injury and bad circumstances in his freshman year and was forced to take the 2015 season off, causing him to lose his scholarship. But Flemming was back in a Gee-Gees uniform in 2016, this time wearing a rugby shirt. 

“Once again in a way, football led me to rugby,” Flemming said in an interview with the Fulcrum.

Now in his fourth year with the men’s rugby team, the education student has seen his team evolve like no other player on the pitch.

“When I first got there, everything was self-governed and self-funded,” Flemming said. “We used it as a pitch to Sports Services.”

The rugby club used to be a competitive club that played in a league it funded called the Scholars League, but the competition was weak and the team often won by large margins.

“We told them, ‘listen, we just want to play in a league where we can be recognized,’ ” Flemming said. “‘We created our own league, we’re a group of functional people, we can run a league and manage other people, just let us get in a real league.’ ”

That league ended up being the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ). The men’s rugby club, along with the golf and rowing clubs, were all awarded varsity club status in 2018. Starting in 2018-19, those three clubs received more funding, more exposure and access to Gee-Gees facilities. They were also able to compete in better leagues, such as the RSEQ for the men’s rugby club.

“We’re also expected to do more on our end,” Flemming said.

Flemming says the club should have been given varsity status sooner, as some of their best players graduated before they could ever set foot on an RSEQ rugby field or in an RSEQ tournament. 

Flemming will look to help carry his team to the national championships for the first time in its existence. The club opens up the home portion of their calendar on Sunday at 2.p.m. The Gees will take on the back-to-back RSEQ champions Concordia Stingers at Matt Anthony Field. The Grey and Garnet won it’s season opener 23-16 against the University of Quebec School of Superior Technologies (ETS) last weekend.