Before he was Director of Rugby at Western Washington University, Paul Horne was coaching rugby at Semiahmoo High School in Canada. His coaching career of more than 30 years has taken him to every continent except for Antarctica, and now to the British Columbia Rugby Hall of Fame.
Horne, who is originally from West Vancouver, started coaching rugby full time in 1979 for Semiahmoo in White Rock, B.C. Before that he was a player-coach at WWU, where his love of rugby was sparked.
“I went to Boise State for football and transferred to Western Washington University, where I started my rugby career,” he said in a phone interview. “I intended to go play football, but ran into a group of rugby guys, and my roommate played. They convinced me to play and we finished fourth in the nation that year, and I was hooked. I’ve been a rugby guy ever since.”
Horne, now 65, founded the rugby program at Semiahmoo when he was teaching at the school, and turned it into one of the top prep programs in B.C. Through his success at that level, Horne got involved in coaching the B.C. U19 team in 1984, which he would go on to coach to eight national championships. He also coached the U21 team from 1990-92, and the U23 team in 1993 and 1994. He returned to coaching the U19 team in 1996 and 1997 when they toured Wales and Scotland.
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In 1998, Horne was asked to take an assistant position with the Canadian Men’s National team, coaching the forwards until 2002.
“That was a lot of fun,” he recalled of coaching the variety of teams. “I could travel a lot. We played South Africa in front of 60,000 people, and Nelson Mandela was there. Then we got to go to Australia and play in Olympic Stadium with 60,000 plus there.”
For Horne, though, the biggest accomplishment was seeing one of his high school players make it to an age group team. In South Africa he had three former high school players who were on the team.
“I didn’t get to pick them to be there, so that was cool to have them make it and experience playing the former world cup champions,” Horne said. “In 1985 the U19 team played England in Vancouver and I had four guys on that team from my high school. It was always gratifying to see them move up to the higher level and play for their country.”
His demeanor and impact on each program he has been a part of is not lost on any of his former assistants or players.
“On or off the field, the great thing about playing with him is he’s a big man and even bigger off the field,” Jeff Lombard, an assistant coach at WWU and longtime friend and teammate of Horne’s said in a phone interview. “He has a great personality. He’s very charismatic and a great leader. To be with him and work with him has been a pleasure.”
Playing for any provincial or national team was a big accomplishment for Horne’s former players, as that was one of the highest levels of competition. He took great pride in seeing his high school players make it to a higher-level team he was coaching.
“In North America this is an amateur sport, and the highest honor is to play for your country,” he explained. “This September the U.S. and Canada have qualified for the Rugby World Cup and will have domestic and professional players from Europe, whereas everyone else will be mostly professional players. It’s very cool to see these guys surface at that level.”
At the Wednesday, April 1, ceremony, one of Horne’s former players organized a group of 40 former players to attend the Hall of Fame dinner and induction. With his wife and four daughters at his side, Horne received a commemorative plaque as a video of his accomplishments rolled. The plaque now sits in the B.C. Rugby Hall of Fame in Stanley Park, in Vancouver, right next to the Brockton Oval rugby grounds.
“When I received the letter of induction, I thought it was an April Fool’s joke because the ceremony was on April 1,” Horne said. “When I was convinced it was real I thought, ‘This is pretty cool.’ It’s very humbling and I was honored. There are 26 people in it prior to this induction, and I knew them and they are icons. Some are good friends through playing and coaching, but I never thought someone considered me worthy of this honor. You become a coach and you just get up and go do it because you love doing it, and it’s a great honor to be recognized by your peers.”
Horne has also coached at the University of British Columbia, as a forwards coach, and with the Chuckanut Bay Rugby club in Whatcom County, to name just a few other accomplishments.
Now having led WWU to a Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference title and berth to the Men’s Division I-AA Quarterfinals this season, Horne is showing he might not be done adding to his career accomplishments.