by the Delaware Rugby Foundation
Over the course of the past seven months, members of the Delaware Rugby Foundation (DRF) have been advocating for the addition of Rookie Rugby to the afterschool curriculum of local institutions that work with middle school-age children.
“It hasn’t been easy,” comments Christopher Wierzbowski, a Public Ally of Delaware that has been serving as the DRF’s Program Coordinator and the lead on the DRF’s charge to expose Delaware’s youth to rugby at an early age.
“There were days when I would call schools for hours and only hear pre-recorded voices.” This challenge forced Wierzbowski to think outside the box in terms of where to look for organizations that would support rugby programs, to see where the “spaghetti sticks.”
“For the longest time we were scavengers, now we are actively evaluating and refining our approach as well as tailoring it to meet the needs of our partners,” comments Bob Weir, one of the DRF’s founding members, chair person of the DRF’s Program committee, and head coach of the Under-19 Wilmington Colts Boys Rugby Club. After struggling to find places for the program, Wierzbowski’s objective changed from “create a middle school rugby program” to “what organizations would best fit into our Rookie Rugby network.”
One of those organizations includes Nativity Preparatory School, a tuition-free Catholic middle school for boys from low-income families in the Wilmington area. When Brian Winchell, Nativity’s Dean of Student Activities, was approached by Wierzbowski back in January, he felt that the rugby was “outside of our guy’s comfort zone, and that it lent itself nicely to what we teach at school at a regular basis like cooperation and teamwork.”
However, when Winchell brought up the idea of adding rugby to Nativity’s after school program, “the administration’s initial reaction was that they were a little leery of the whole concept, because of the perceived nature of rugby. But, when the information was presented to them and they understood it was an instructional league, the response was very positive.
“Unlike the full contact, 15 players to a side rugby played at schools like Salesianum, Lake Forest, and University of Delaware, Rookie Rugby is non-contact, coed, has seven players to a side, and has very simple rules. “Think of it,” Wierzbowski says, “as continuous flag-football.”
Nativity Prep’s sister school– Serviam Girls Academy (SGA) will field a team this spring as well. Both Nativity and Serviam are of part of the Nativity Miguel Network of Schools, therefore they have very similar missions. Rachael Romond, SGA’s Enrichment Program Coordinator, says that the reason she liked the idea of adding Rookie Rugby to their Spring Sports offerings was that “we were interested in bringing many sports options to our students to try and ignite passion and to promote physical exercise.”
As you exit the main doors of Nativity and look across South Clayton Street, you see Bayard Middle School, another organization that the DRF works with. The DRF’s connection with Bayard Middle School started back in September at Wierzbowski’s weekly Public Allies Training.
Wierzbowski heard from a staff member of the Clarence Fraim Boys and Girls Club that they were looking for different programs to offer students that attended the after school program facilitated by the B&G Club. The partnership blossomed from that point and helped create two Rookie Rugby teams: one at Bayard and another at the Boys and Girls Club.
Bayard’s team practiced for two weeks and was disbanded because some of its participants failed to meet the academic standards set by the after school program.
“We made some good headway at Bayard, established some positive relationships, and exposed upwards of 80 middle schoolers to Rookie Rugby,” says Wierzbowski “this does not mark the end of our efforts to see rugby at [Bayard].”
Those that were in good standing have been referred to join the Boys and Girls Club’s team, which, due of their participation in Bayard’s after school program, they have been granted free membership.
In an effort to maintain sustainability, cut down costs, and support the growth of “Rugby Knowledge,” Wierzbowski encouraged partner organizations to send staff members to Rookie Rugby counselor training at St. Edmond’s Academy, another one of the DRF’s partner organizations.
Weir, who holds an International Coach Educator License and is a USA Rugby Coach Development Course Leader, trained over 30 individuals to be certified as counselors. Fifteen of those individuals were members of the University of Delaware Women’s Rugby Football Club.
Christopher Varrachi, a DRF volunteer, Public Ally, and a participant at this training event, explains that “Coming from a person that has never played rugby, the DRF training taught me everything that I would need to know to be a successful rugby counselor. I learned the basics of rugby, while also learning how to be an effective mentor.”
At 4pm on April 5th, EastSide Charter School will start its own non-contact coed Rookie Rugby team; this will be the 6th of its kind that the DRF co-created with its partners. These teams will practice through mid-May and will face each other in a round-robin tournament during the DRF’s Subaru 7s Tournament which will be held at Alapocas Run Park, Wilmington, DE on Saturday, May 21, 2011.