In America, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day for us to remember how far we’ve come in the struggle for equality for all, whether it’s racial, economic, gender, or other, and how far we still have to go. Rugby has not been immune to those difficulties and has some ugly chapters, but at the same time it has also been a force for good. You don’t have to look any further than Nelson Mandela and how he used the power of rugby to help pull a country together.
In celebration of MLK Jr. Day we want to profile three groups in the U.S. and there efforts to use rugby to better the lives in their community.
Started in South Los Angeles by former professional rugby player turned teacher Stuart Krohn, the ICEF program has been getting at-risk youth involved in rugby for a decade. The program currently has several hundred youth participating at various levels. Besides giving the kids some constructive to do, the program also also helped many focus their lives and eventually go to college. On the field they turn quite a few heads with their play and it is just a matter of time before and ICEF graduate cracks one of the top national teams. This is a trailer for a documentary recording the team’s trip to New Zealand:
A few months ago IRB Total Rugby aired this terrific video of the program Timaris Montano has put together in New Mexico. While all players are welcome to play on the team the demographics of the community mean that a large percentage of the players are of Native American heritage. Many of those players came from risky backgrounds and rugby has given them direction. Montano has served a mother figure to many of the players despite getting pressure from some of the community quit her position because she was a woman.
In comparison to most teams the U.S.A. Women Eagles 15s and 7s teams are extremely well resourced. After all, there are only a few dozen professional women rugby players in the world and the U.S.A. has quite a few of those. However, in comparison to the funding that many of the men’s programs get the women are criminally underfunded. It is the women’s 7s team, not the men’s, that has the best chance of medalling in Rio. Members of the team often have to go to great sacrifices to train and play. As they improve they will hopefully crave a pathway for more equal funding in the future.