Dean Van Camp will be among the youngest athletes to ever be enshrined in the Scugog Sports Hall of Fame when the 2015 class takes to the stage for this year’s induction ceremony at the Scugog Community Centre on Thursday, Nov. 12.
The 32-year-old Port Perry native traveled the world as a member of Canada’s national rugby team before injuries forced him into retirement in 2009. He honed his skills on the pitch at Port Perry High School, although he admits that he had a lot to learn when he began playing in Grade 9.
“Growing up, I was mainly involved in hockey, soccer and track and field. I was only introduced to rugby in 1997 when I was in Grade 9. It’s funny now, but I knew so little about the game at first. When we had our first tournament at the Scugog Soccer Fields, I didn’t even know enough to touch the ball to the ground after scoring a try.”
He would catch on quickly and was a natural fit through his mix of size and speed. In Grade 10, Van Camp was a key contributor for the Rebels team that captured the lone OFSAA rugby championship in school history, despite being the youngest player at the provincial championships at 15-years-old.
“I wasn’t thinking long term at first and had no idea about the adventures the game would lead me to. But, I was big, fast and could run over guys. From the start, rugby was a great fit for me.”
For former Port Perry High School athletic director Bryan Armstrong, Van Camp’s place in the hierarchy of former Rebel rugby players is undisputed.
“He’s definitely number one. He is the one that really put our school on the map,” Armstrong told The Standard. “He was the best player in Grade 10 when we won OFSAA, and was the youngest player at the tournament. We built our whole offence around his skill set. He was unstoppable with his size and speed.”
Armstrong would play a pivotal role in Van Camp’s rise through the provincial ranks, starting when he was 15. By age 17, Van Camp had attracted national attention and began playing with Canada’s Under-19 team.
Opposing players also took note of the way Van Camp could dominate games while at Port Perry H.S.
“It was hard to believe he was in high school. He was more like a machine out there that had been programmed to play rugby. You couldn’t stop him, you’d just hope to contain him,” recalled Mike Ashenhurst, a former Uxbridge S.S. Tigers player.
After graduating, Van Camp studied at the University of Western Ontario, and help to lead the Mustangs to a provincial title in 2004 when he scored the game-winning try.
It was at Western that Van Camp would earn his first call to join the Canadian Senior team.
“In my third year, I got the call for my first cap with the National Sevens team for a tournament in South Africa. But, I had to scramble because it fell in the middle of exams,” recalled Van Camp. “It was that experience that really motivated me with the national program.”
In an effort to maximize his training, Van Camp left Port Perry in 2005 to move to Victoria, B.C., home base for the national rugby program.
“To really be in the mix, I had to move to Victoria and train with the team year-round. I was able to finish my degree out there, and that’s when things really started to happen on the pitch.”
Over the next four years, Van Camp would earn several caps with the national team, and travelled around the globe, squaring off against the world’s rugby powerhouses over the course of his career with the national team.
In his first international game with the senior rugby union team, Van Camp scored the winning try to give Canada a tournament championship over the hosts in Japan.
“There were so many unbelievable moments. From playing the All Blacks in New Zealand to playing in front of 70,000 screaming fans at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. I never imagined rugby would lead me where it did, but it was an incredible experience. The crowd in Wales was so loud, we couldn’t hear each other 10 feet away on the pitch. The passion of rugby fans around the world is unbelievable.”
As well, Van Camp noted that he is very proud of his undefeated record in games played against the United States across all competitions.
In addition to rugby, Van Camp was also a dominant player in minor hockey with the Port Perry Predators, and recalled his greatest memory, a playoff battle with the Uxbridge Stars in his last year of Midget. The original five game series stretched to eight, with both teams issuing protests, culminating in a hard fought win for Port Perry over their North Durham rivals.
“I was really focused on rugby that year, since it was my first year with the national Under-19s, and I didn’t play the first half of the season,” Van Camp said. “But I couldn’t stay away, since it was our last year and we’d all grown up together. That series with Uxbridge was a great battle that still sticks in a lot of people’s minds. As tough as it was on the ice, the battles were just as fierce in the stands.”
In 2014, Van Camp and his wife Sarah left Victoria to return home to Port Perry, where he works alongside his father Bill and brother Joel at the family business, Van Camp Contracting. As well, Dean and Sarah are expecting their first child next month.
“I’m so happy to be back home and being able to raise my family here. All the time I spent in B.C., it never felt like it does in Port Perry. Working with my family is great, we’ve been in business for 59 years now, and I’m proud to be a part of that legacy.
I had no idea I’d been going into the Hall of Fame, and it’s a testament to all of the great support this town has given me over the years.”