One of the nicer things I get to do with my line of work is that I travel and have the opportunities to meet new people in Rugby League. I of course refer to my physics work and this week have been in Providence, Rhode Island at a conference. Of course Providence is the home of the Rhode Island Rebellion owned and run by Lawrence Almagno. However, what is probably less known is that, through Lawrence as the USARL’s youth director, the American Youth Rugby League Association is also based in Providence. This gave me an opportunity to find out a bit more on what AYRLA is and what its doing to get the youth of Rhode Island and America to play Rugby League. So I caught up with Michael Kelly the Chief Financial Officer for AYRLA.
Mike has been with the organisation only a few months. A banker, he has never played rugby league bust has been inspired by what AYRLA is wanting to do, to get involved and help where he can. I met Mike at Murphy’s a great little corner pub in downtown providence, over dinner and a couple of beers I got great insight into what the USARL is looking to do with youth development. “I guess the mission of AYRLA is to use Rugby League as a base for kids in underprivileged areas and neighbourhoods to choose a healthy lifestyle” Mike said when asked about the role of AYRLA, he goes on “Its about eating habits, nutrition, exercise and team work and using Rugby League to do it.”
One of the great things they have done, is that Lawrence has been able to boil down the sport to 12 rules for kids to play. Bit like Park footy here in the USA, you throw, catch and scrimmage, its simple and easy for kids to play a game, weather its with 6 or 12 kids. The same has been done here in Rhode Island. This also means that when AYRLA has coaching sessions and community activities its easy for kids to really get involved. “A key feature in the USA is that all sports are pay to play. But with Rugby League we want to cover those costs. This will be a just show up to play set up. ” Mike points out.
But inspiration for how to run this set up game from an unlikely source for Mike. I asked him how AYLA started “The USARL wanted to form a youth development program. In the end its up to every team to do things their own way, but we will be there to help and guide them as needed.” Mike said the inspiration come from Baseballs little league, which he sees as the most successful junior sport set up in the world. Right now AYRLA, since Lawrence is the director and runs the Rebellion, has concentrated on the Providence and Rhode Island area. But hopes that this will form a successful blue print for others to follow.
Having said that, Mike points out the way its done in Rhode Island is not the only way, and he says that the Philadelphia Fight have has very successful youth development camps recently as well and certainly that helps. Also he points out that Jacksonville have gone a different route by establishing a second division competition where players from different cities like Orlando and Daytona can move up through the ranks into the Axemen. I asked what interest is there from other teams, and he says that other teams have expressed interest to start tapping into youth programs there and so AYRLA will look to work with them there.
Though Run by Lawrence from the Rebellion, AYRLA is not specifically a Rebellion enterprise. Development of youth for Rhode Island is, I suppose, the prototype for them and the USARL. Youth programs will be different for each team and AYRLA will work with each team to form a youth set up that is the best for that team and region. For the Rebellion this is all about building a strong junior base for the team and also a fan base.
One of the really impressive developments AYRLA has done in Rhode Island is the Rhode Island training School. This is quite an amazing initiative, the RITS is a full penitentiary for criminals under the age of 21. This includes ex-gang members, AYRLA has gone into the penitentiary and run coaching clinics with the members in there.
“Ex-gang members play side by side instead of shooting each other” Says Mike. Also this year, the international 9s had the NZ Police come out and do a clinic with the kids as well and were blown away. “The students are asking us to come back next year and do it again!” They hope that when they get out they will seek out Rugby League to play and not go back to the old ways.
The AYRLA program has also been working with middle school kids. Since rules state that they cannot play Football in the off season, the coaches are looking to get their kids to do something to stay fit and keep skills up. Rugby League is a perfect fir for that. This year saw the first time they tried it and the coaches were so impressed that they have asked for these training session to be held again. Though not held in the off season this year its something AYRLA is looking at in the future.
So 2013 is shaping up to be an even bigger year for AYRLA. To start with they have applied for the Citgo Fuelling Good Program. This is a $5,000 prize for a local non profit organisations in the Rhode Island area that are looking promote good health and living in the community and make it a better place. There are over 150 non profit organisations and charities that have applied and only 12 awards will be given out. the award required AYRLA to write a proposal talking about who they are, what they do and why they make the community a better place. The organisations that are selected then can have people vote in at the website below
Organisations with the most number of votes will go through and you can vote more than once, for example every day, from now until Late November. So if you want to help, get voting!
The growth of AYRLA actually starts this November, when they will be part of the USARL annual meeting and will start to plan growth programs with the rest of the organisation. Locally in Rhode Island the plans are to re-run the Rhode Island Training school, as mentioned the kids loved the experience and want them back. The middle school program will be expanded. From 100 kids this year there is talk from the coaches that they will have 350 for next season and look to expand this to outside of Providence. This will hopefully develop into a Rugby League mini competition that will be run over a 4 weekend period.
In time, the work AYRLA does in Rhode Island will give a great blue print for other clubs in the USARL to develop their youth programs. The important thing in any developing competition is juniors and youth development. The USARL has put an emphasis on this and initiatives like AYRLA go a long way into fulfilling those roles.
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