Doug Piper is a local who’s passionate about Rugby Union, having spent a lot of his time being a player, coach, trainer and manager. He has been able to combine his skills as a teacher of the deaf with this sporting experience to help hearing impaired players – most recently at the Australian Deaf Games in Geelong, Victoria.
How long have you lived in Port Macquarie, Doug? What originally brought you to the area?
I did my original teacher training at Armidale, and my first posting was at Willawarrin, west of Kempsey. I moved to Sydney to work as a teacher and also completed further studies, so I could work as a teacher of the deaf.
I was actually seconded out of that role to work as a head office consultant working with students who have disabilities and technology – this was back when computers were just coming in. I did this for a number of years, then 13 years ago I had the opportunity to move to Port Macquarie. I worked at Westport Primary, and I have been semi-retired for 3 years.
So, when did the interest in Rugby Union begin?
I first became involved with Rugby in Armidale, while I was doing my initial teacher training. I became involved with Rugby again in Sydney; when you’re a teacher, there are always opportunities for coaching, but I was actually more active as a player. I played for about twelve years each with two different clubs down there, and I’ve just had my 13th season with the Port Pirates here in Port Macquarie – with my whole career gradually spanning from player, to player/coach to what I’m doing now with training, managing and sports first aid. I believe that I have now attended over 1,000 games in total.
So apart from the Port Pirates, what other teams are you involved with?
I was involved with Drummoyne and Hunters Hill Rugby clubs for over 22 years, and the NSW Suburban Rugby Union rep sides. I’m also involved with the Mid North Coast Juniors and Seniors sides; I was involved with the Port Macquarie Juniors for over 10 years. Then, the Australian, Southern Cross and Deaf Rugby Australia teams, in either coaching or managing roles.
How did the involvement with Deaf Rugby come about?
Because of my formal qualifications and wide ranging experience as a teacher of the deaf, as a Rugby Union coach and as a Level 2 Sports Trainer, the joining together of these strong interests of mine was perhaps a natural development.
It was a combination of things. When I was playing at Drumoyne, one of my team mates in first grade was deaf, my best friend’s father-in-law was in charge of a hostel for deaf adults at Stanmore, then one of my students in my class had tests that showed he had a hearing loss – so it was a kind of synchronicity.
I did a twelve month course at Sydney University in deaf education and became involved in the field – all the while still playing Rugby.
Some years later I changed clubs to Hunters Hill, and the opportunity came up to become involved with Deaf Rugby in the first game between Australia and New Zealand – but I just had too much on my plate at that time.
The opportunity didn’t come up again until I moved to Port Macquarie, and Australian Rugby Union was advertising for a team manager to look after the Australian Deaf Rugby for a series of games in New Zealand. I threw my hat in the ring – and I was successful! This was in 2004.
In terms of Deaf Rugby, I have been involved as a Trainer, Manager, Liaison officer and/or Assistant Coach with a variety of sides and activities, including international tours to New Zealand, Fiji and most recently to Japan.
What have been some of the major Rugby highlights for you?
Winning (as an Assistant Coach) two 1st grade Kentwell Cup Premierships with Hunters Hill in the very strong NSW Sydney Suburban competition and winning two 1st grade Premierships in the Mid North Coast competition with the Port Macquarie Pirates.
On the Deaf Rugby side of things, the 2005 tour of New Zealand with wins against their three strong provincial sides and drawing the two test match series is a highlight. NZ were able to call on the All Blacks Scrum Coach to help them for the last test. All of the related school visits are stand outs.
I was awarded the Sports Medal of Australia in 2000, which was presented to me by the then Prime Minister, John Howard, in 2001 for my contribution to sport.
You attended the Australian Deaf Games in Geelong in late February. What was your role there – and what were the team’s results?
The Australian Deaf Games cover a wide array of sports – tennis, archery, bowls, soccer, athletics, rugby etc over a week.
My role at the Games over 2 days was as team Manager for the NSW 7s Rugby squad while providing Sports Trainer support (injury management, strapping, first aid etc.) for all of the squads. Having a squad from Fiji playing this year was a real bonus and added an international air to the competition.
NSW completed an undefeated series of games by defeating Fiji 51-7 in the competition final. All of the games received great crowd support. I was unexpectedly awarded the inaugural Life Membership from Southern Cross Deaf Rugby.
What keeps you involved with Rugby in general – and Deaf Rugby in particular?
Seeing the guys grow in confidence is amazing. Deaf culture is very strong and the deaf community really gets out and supports the players – and the social camaraderie side of Rugby is something you don’t find in all sports.
Every time we go away, new faces pop up each time – and some of these guys are just exceptionally talented. There’s a young guy, James, who hadn’t played much Rugby before – he’s a natural. Another guy from Victoria, Nick, was an Aussie Rules player but wasn’t used to a close contact sport … they’re just two good examples.
For me, the pure enjoyment … the fun factor and seeing improvement in others is what keeps me going.
What’s the future looking like for Deaf Rugby in general?
Hopefully, the Games will be the catalyst for further player identification and expansion. There will be a training camp at Armidale in 2012 and possibly a tour to China 2013. Planning is underway for an exciting new series of games and expansion over near future.
Deaf Rugby works on two levels, with people from all over Australia able to participate. The introductory and developmental level is Southern Cross Deaf Rugby Union. From there, the top level is Deaf Rugby Australia, which has eligibility criteria. We encourage all players to join a local club.
If Deaf Rugby continues to expand at the grass roots level, there’ll be further improvement at the higher level as well.
Where can people find more information about Deaf Rugby, or the Australian Deaf Games?
All of the local Rugby clubs are very supportive of people with a disability who want to play, and they’re a great place to start to learn and get involved in the game.
Visit: www.southerncrossdeafrugby.beep.com to find out more about Deaf Rugby Union.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
Inset Photo: Deaf Rugby Australia 2011 squad, Osaka, Japan – Second Test.