Play Rugby USA: Making A Difference for NYC Youth

By Christopher Gumina,

If you’ve seen young kids in NYC wearing brightly colored uniforms playing rugby, chances are they on one of the many teams from Play Rugby USA.

There are many nonprofit programs in New York City trying to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged youth through sports. Some of them are independent sports leagues while others are part of a larger organization or after-school program. Some even provide mentoring or academic services, and others aim to help their athletes get jobs. Play Rugby USA uses the sport of rugby to accomplish many of these goals.

The mission of Play Rugby USA is, according to their website, “To use the unique power of rugby to empower and inspire youth, primarily from underserved communities, to go forward and realize their true potential.” Play Rugby USA began in New York City in 2003 but has now spread across the country, spawning new branches in both Los Angeles (2010) and San Francisco (2012). In 2016 alone, the New York program attracted 3,400 children and in some years has been able to serve over 5,500 young athletes throughout the five boroughs.

Play Rugby USA attempts to accomplish its mission by creating a certain kind of culture. Danielle Hundt, Play Rugby USA’s Director of Communication and Enrichment, notes the programs are designed to help students form positive habits at school, in the community, and in their personal health. “We strive to create what we call a ‘Go Forward’ culture, placing students on a path to success.”

At the core of Play Rugby’s curriculum is its ‘Values-in-Action,’ which are equally as important to a young person’s development both on and off of the rugby field. These include:

Go Forward: Every play, game and tournament I will put in the effort and hard work to be better for me and my team.

Switch On: Preparing physically and mentally for a tournament. Focusing on how I will treat others and want to be treated. Playing in the true spirit of the game.

Play What You See: I will make positive decisions on and off the field and support and encourage the decisions my teammates make. As a team, we vow to learn from mistakes and become stronger to face challenges, today and in the future.

Get There: I help my teammates be successful, just as they help me to be successful. My contribution and support will create an example others can follow.

Try Makers Not Just Try Scorers: We before me. I always play my hardest and I do it for the good of the team, rather than my own personal statistics. I help my teammates, opponents, coaches, supporters and everyone here today, create a positive experience, we can all be proud of.

Play Rugby USA began in New York City with a weekend program that served 75 children form a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. Today, the organization works with 140 schools and community-based programs including the NYC Department of Education, the CHAMPS Middle School Sports and Fitness League, the Public School Athletic League (PSAL), and the YMCA.

In addition to introducing young people to an entirely new sport, Play Rugby USA has been successful working with athletes off the field as well. “Our program includes three core elements: intentional programming and activities for youth to develop positive life skills; vital connections with caring Youth Development Mentors that embrace a positive attitude and model the skills; and the ‘Go Forward’ culture that provides opportunities for young people to practice the skills and exhibit a positive attitude,” says Hundt.

One program that highlights this philosophy is called Rugby Academy, which is offered exclusively to high-school students by offering academic enrichment, strength and conditioning training, financial literacy education and 1:1 mentoring programs. One hundred percent of the seniors enrolled in this program graduated high school on time and are now in college. The program also reports that 82 percent of all students in all programs reported that their academic performance improved and 88 percent said their physical fitness had improved. Another 86 percent of students said that rugby is helping them develop into a better person, and 81 percent of students are further along a pathway to a happy, healthy life.

Play Rugby USA is able to harness the power of rugby and learning to create a blend of academics and athletics, serving as an example of how to improve the lives of young athletes both on the field and off. In a world full of programs claiming to make a difference, Play Rugby USA truly does.

Chris Gumina is a member of our team of junior journalists. He is an 8th grader at The Dalton School in Manhattan.

To learn more about Play Rugby USA and its work in NYC visit www.playrugbyusa.com

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