ZONE 6: Rugby star Maggie Banks carries family legacy to BC Games

Shawnigan Lake student and Coquitlam native following her parents to the national program

Shawnigan Lake School rugby standout Maggie Banks was honoured with the BC Games Society’s top award as the Cowichan 2018 BC Summer Games closed out at the Island Savings Centre on Sunday afternoon.

Also a member of the national rugby program, Banks led the Vancouver Island-Central Coast (Zone 6) team to the gold medal in girls rugby sevens, beating the Fraser Valley team in Sunday morning’s tournament final. She received the W.R. Bennett Award for Athletic Excellence that afternoon.

SEE MORE: Rugby star Maggie Banks carries family legacy to BC Games

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“It was definitely a huge honour,” she said. “I was definitely not expecting it, out of all the amazing athletes I got to meet this weekend, and even to watch some of them.

“When I realized [award presenter MLA Doug Routley] was talking about me, my heart was racing, my palms were getting sweaty. I was incredibly honoured. I wasn’t even aware that the award was given out, so there wasn’t any thought that I could be chosen.”

The W.R. Bennett award was named in honour of the former premier of British Columbia, William Bennett, who was instrumental in starting the BC Games program in 1978. The award was first presented by Bennett at the 2008 BC Summer Games, which were hosted in his hometown of Kelowna.

The award includes a $2,500 bursary and is designed to recognize and support the ongoing development of young athletes. Banks is the first rugby player to win the award, and the third athlete from the Vancouver Island-Central Coast zone.

The award was Banks’s second big thrill of the day after her team won the gold medal that morning.

“It was such an awesome feeling,” she said. “When the final whistle blew and our team ran onto the field, we were all hugging; after all the hard work we had put into it over the last three days and practicing in weeks leading up, it paid off.”

Both of her parents not only played for, but captained Canadian national rugby teams, but Banks insists she found the sport on her own.

“I grew up playing every other sport around,” Banks said last Friday, shortly after her Vancouver Island-Central Coast team defeated Kootenays. “There were always rugby balls around, but there was never any pressure from my parents. I found it myself, with a little encouragement.”

Banks’s dad, Ryan, played in the back row for Canada at the 1999 and 2003 Rugby World Cups. And her mom, Heather Wilson, represented Canada in the 1994 and 1998 Rugby World Cups.

Although she was around the sport constantly, she didn’t start playing until she was 13.

“I practically grew up at the rugby pitch,” Banks noted in her BC Summer Games athlete bio, “and cheered on the sidelines at the 2003 World Cup in Australia.”

While Banks’s hometown is Coquitlam, she spends almost the entire year on Vancouver Island where she attends rugby powerhouse Shawnigan Lake School, while also training with the national program, so it made more sense for her to try out for the Vancouver Island-Central Coast team instead of the squad representing the Fraser River zone, which includes Coquitlam.

“It was convenient. I’m here, obviously, so it’s easier for me to train with this team.”

Maggie Banks delivers a pass to one of her Vancouver Island-Central Coast teammates during a match against the Kootenays at the 2018 BC Summer Games girls rugby sevens tournament on Friday, July 20. (Kevin Rothbauer/Black Press)

Shawnigan Lake School was the site of the BC Summer Games rugby tournament, so Banks was at home playing on the familiar pitch. She was also working with familiar faces as four of her high school teammates were on the Island team — led by Shawnigan coaches Shannon Atkins, Laura Russell and Dani Robb. There was something unusual, however, about being on the Shawnigan pitch with players who might ordinarily be rivals.

“It’s a little weird, playing here with other people I don’t usually play with,” Banks admitted.

Family and friends from both the Shawnigan Lake area and her hometown of Coquitlam gathered at the fields on the weekend to cheer for Banks and her teammates.

“It’s always nice to have them around for support,” she said.

Banks is hoping to be named to the national team for the Youth Olympic Games, which will take place in Argentina in October.

“It’s a hope,” she emphasized. “The team hasn’t been named yet, but that would be my next big thing coming up.”

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Maggie Banks receives the W.R. Bennett Award from Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley at the closing ceremonies of the Cowichan 2018 BC Summer Games. (Kevin Rothbauer/Black Press)

Rugby player Maggie Banks realizes she will be receiving the W.R. Bennett Award during the closing ceremonies of the Cowichan 2018 BC Summer Games. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press)

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