Play Rugby USA, a nonprofit organization focused on the wellbeing of school children in disenfranchised communities, is getting a jumper in Richmond by piloting an after-school rugby program at Washington Elementary School in Point Richmond. According to Stuart Bagshaw, the executive director of Play Rugby USA’s California branch, the program is now in over 200 schools in New York and in 60 schools in Los Angeles.
Students, both boys and girls, wore red and yellow Velcro belts Friday after school and jumped, screamed and passed what appeared to be a white pigskin during a friendly game of flag football. Except it wasn’t flag football—children threw the ball underhand laterally or backwards, there was no blocking for the runner, and once a player reached the end zone they had to touch the ball on the ground.
“These kids are working up a sweat—they got a bit of perspiration under their armpits here,” Bagshaw said half jokingly as 20 students ran around the playground jumping and screaming for the ball. “It’s a game that any kid can play. There are no prima donnas in this game: no quarterback, no goalies. No one has a position where they’re exposed to fail.”
Bagshaw said after-school rugby teams in San Francisco started last summer and that it was Point Richmond’s Up and Under Pub owner, Nathan Trivers, and Cal Berkeley’s rugby coach Tom Billups’ vision to bring the sport to Richmond. Play Rugby USA plans to expand the program to one more Richmond school, Bagshaw said.
“I was really impressed how everyone worked together,” Billups told the young players as they huddled around the former national coach after running some drills. “It won’t be long before I need some rugby players at Cal. Good team work, work really hard and have a lot of fun are three things that rugby will teach you.”
“I liked it,” sixth grader Xavier McClanahan said after playing his first practice game. “It seemed like the NFL a little bit. But the rules are little different and the ball is shaped different, too.”
“I didn’t know anything about rugby before,” sixth grader Zhanee Carter said after the game. “I saw it on TV at my grandfather’s house [though]. It was fun.”
Fourth grader Jaylin Thompson said he had so much fun that he’s going to start playing rugby with his brother. “I think it’s really good to play rugby,” he said. “You have to move your legs in a different way and then you have to throw underhand to a person. I’m going to tell my friends it was really cool.”
Fifth grader Asa Gourdine said he’s committed to the sport and wants to keep training. “It’s a really fun experience to play rugby and to play a new sport,” he said. “I’m gong to tell my mom and dad that I have a tournament coming up May 11 at Boxer Stadium in San Francisco.”
For more information about Play Rugby USA after school program, contact program manager Danielle Siegler at danielle.siegler[at]playrugbyusa.com. And for more information about the Boxer Stadium event, click here.