Rugby programme flourishes under wrestler’s guidance
Former pro wrestler John Layfield is adamant rugby can help improve the behaviour of Bermuda’s youngsters from “at-risk” areas both in and out of school.
Layfield, who was once known by his ring names of LBJ and Bradshaw, launched his Beyond Rugby programme at the start of the school year, which helps underprivileged youths, and is in partnership with The Family Centre.
Sixty children, 30 from Dellwood Middle School and 30 from CedarBridge Academy, are part of the programme while hundreds more play in the Bermuda Schools Rugby League, which began earlier this year.
Next Sunday (May 6) marks the inaugural league’s curtain call with around 12 primary, middle and high schools competing in the Beyond Rugby Bermuda School Championship.
The event will be held at the National Sports Centre North Field from 1pm to 5pm, and Layfield is hoping for a fitting end to a successful first season.
“Beyond Rugby, our programme, set up the league so that kids would have an outlet it’s really helped with their behaviour,” said Layfield, who lives in Bermuda.
“At times we’ve had as many as 400 kids playing rugby in a week, 250 of those we estimate had never played before. We’re really getting true Bermudian kids playing the game.
“It’s been a fantastic (first season) and has exceeded our expectations. It’s been tough because we didn’t have the fixtures in the school schedule, so it’s been tough organising games without conflicting with other activities. Next year we will have it set in the schedule so it will be a lot easier.”
Layfield, who set up Beyond Rugby with the help of Patrick Callow, the youth development officer for the Bermuda Rugby Football Union, believes the programme can help break down some of the tribal barriers on the Island.
“We had kids from different regions who have never met each other, parents who wouldn’t normally hang around with each other due to territorial affiliations all having pizza together after the game,” said Layfield, who was the longest reigning WWE champ in history.
“So, it’s providing a real Island cohesion among the kids, which is great. We call every parent every week to come out and support their kids; hopefully we’ll see them down at the Championship finals next weekend.”
Since starting of the programme, which features a homework academy, Layfield has seen a marked improvement in the behaviour of the children involved. He said only those who were attending classes and achieving good grades were allowed to play matches.
“When we set the league up in December, a lot of the kids didn’t understand the concept of the game. But once the games started their behaviour started getting better, the practice sessions started getting better.
“Also, if they’re bad in homework academy or are skipping class they can’t play in the games. That’s a real carrot for the kids. The other week there was a game when there was only seven kids eligible to play. We had another 12 watching. Sitting them out of the games, for whatever reason, really bothers them so we’re are seeing improvements in their behaviour already.”
A rough-and-tumble contact sport such as rugby provides youngsters from low socio-economic areas with a safe environment to release their aggression, said Layfield, who aims to expand the programme next season.
“I’ve been a rugby fan for a couple of years; I’ve always liked the game,” said Layfield, who plans to climb the seven highest summits in the seven continents to raise money for The Family Centre. “You already had soccer and cricket set up on the Island and American Football is too difficult; you need 22 people and lots of equipment.
“But with rugby you just need a ball and you can play five-on-five. When you’re dealing with kids from at risk areas, violent sports work a bit better as it lets them release their aggression.”