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Passion for community reaches fields beyond rugby

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Bermuda Under-19 take on Trinidad and Tobago in the Rugby Americas North Championship(Photograph by James O’Shaughnessy/Bermuda Rugby)

It has been an exhilarating few weeks for Bermuda’s rising rugby union stars. A squad of talented young men went to Miami for the Rugby Americas North Under-19 Championship, while some of our inspiring young women have been attending a camp at Life University in Marietta, Georgia.

The team representing the island in Miami, which enjoyed a storming 20-7 victory against Turks and Caicos last Sunday, included players from the successful Beyond Rugby Bermuda programme, under the watchful eye of their passionate coach, Patrick Calow, who is also the island’s youth development officer for the sport.

Calow is more than a coach to these young people: he is a counsellor, a teacher, a father figure, a big brother, a friend.

Many of his young players come from broken homes, some have been in trouble with the law, many are struggling with their schoolwork. Keeping some of his young charges on the straight and narrow isn’t always easy — without the support, encouragement and mentorship offered by the initiative, they risk being lured into antisocial behaviour, gangs and criminal activity.

Beyond Rugby is a family. The initiative offers students somewhere to go and to be productive — to gain some direction. They have a place where they are encouraged and their potential recognised. They bond as a team, regardless of whether they come from “town” or “country”, east or west, CedarBridge Academy or the Berkeley Institute. They feel a sense of belonging that they might otherwise seek in a gang.

Founded in 2010 in partnership with Bermuda helping agency Family Centre, the small but dedicated team of staff and volunteers strive to instil good values and, more importantly, to help the young people to graduate.

Concerned by the high dropout rate among young men in public school and the risk of them being lured into unhealthy lifestyles, the programme’s founders — including professional wrestler turned World Wrestling Entertainment commentator John “Bradshaw” Layfield — wanted to ensure that students had more options and brighter futures, to become the young leaders that Bermuda needs.

In the few years the programme has been running, Beyond Rugby has proven a huge success. As well as emphasising rugby’s core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship, the students involved — from CedarBridge, Berkeley and Dellwood Middle School — attend a dedicated homework academy run by Family Centre.

The charity’s youth community support worker, Darren Woods, is another key figure in the programme, on hand 24/7 for any of the players when they need him, as are the other key members of the team — Scott Devine, Deneca Zuill, LaToya Bridgewater, Sean Degraff, Lelia Watson, Gareth Nokes and Tashon DeSilva.

Only a couple of their students have dropped out of school. Before becoming part of the Beyond Rugby family, many had no idea what they would do when they left school, or if they would even graduate, but now most have admirable ambitions: some to join the police cadets; a few have been inspired by Calow and want to coach. One is keen to be a physiotherapist and is work-shadowing a local practitioner. Another, Mikle Dill, 17, has been accepted into a rugby camp in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Many have represented their country on the rugby field at senior, under-19 and under-17 level. Some have travelled to play for Bermuda — their first time overseas. They have won games and tournaments, tasted success and acclaim, felt national pride. All are getting better school grades.

One of Calow’s ambitions is to get his players college scholarships through rugby.

“Our main goal is to help kids graduate, to give them options,” he said. “We also strive to help with instilling values and good qualities through rugby. However, education is first because when a young person drops out of school, their options become so small.

“We want our players to be successful on and off the pitch. It’s not just about rugby. Through sport the kids learn to work together, they get stability, discipline — all the things you get from being part of a team.

“At the homework academy, they get help with the likes of English and maths, and our volunteers build relationships with the students — they care about them.

“There’s an improvement in their performance in school, especially at middle school level. It helps the kids feel better about themselves.

“There’s a high dropout rate among normal students but the kids in our programme are graduating, which is our most important element.”

The initiative has even been winning praise overseas and last year won a Fair Play Award from the North America Caribbean Rugby Association that is presented to the organisation, team or individual that best demonstrates rugby’s culture of sportsmanship and fair play through actions on or off the field.

More than 7,000 programmes throughout North America and the Caribbean were eligible for the accolade, voted on by 18 countries.

The players’ successes are the island’s successes. The confidence and values they gain from the sport, the pride they feel every time they take to the field, whether they win or lose, are something we should all celebrate.

In these troubled times when so many of our young men are dying at each other’s hands, initiatives striving to keep our youth away from such lifestyles should be applauded and actively encouraged.

•To help Beyond Rugby or volunteer at the homework academy, visit www.beyondrugbybermuda.com, e-mail Patrick Calow at pcalow@brfu.bm or contact Family Centre on 232 1116

Young and talented: Bermuda Under-19 take on Trinidad and Tobago in the Rugby Americas North Championship