Hundreds of schoolchildren across Vancouver get the chance to try Rugby for the first time

BC Rugby and the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) have been working together to bring Rugby to schools across Vancouver via the Police Athletic League (PAL).  The most recent program, Fall 2019, culminated in over 250 children participating in a Rugby jamboree at Trillium Park. In just two short years, hundreds of excited youngsters have discovered rugby for the first time through VPD’s PAL Rugby program, spreading interest in the sport and encouraging healthy, active play.

The Vancouver Police Athletic League is a youth crime prevention initiative that uses athletic, recreational and educational programs as a tool to foster positive rapport and mutual trust between police officers and youths.  From humble beginnings, the PAL initiative has increased its delivery to more and more schools in Vancouver, assisted by BC Rugby.  Typically aimed at Grades 4-6, volunteers from the VPD deliver six-week programs at individual schools that culminate in a mass-gathering jamboree.  What started as one-off sessions in isolated schools has now grown to schools bringing multiple teams, some involving their entire grade class.  The secret?  Fun.

Hundreds of schoolchildren across Vancouver get the chance to try Rugby for the first time
Hundreds of schoolchildren across Vancouver get the chance to try Rugby for the first time

“Using Rookie Rugby as a vehicle, it is so easy to get rugby balls into the hands of these kids,” says Thomas Viljoen, Rugby Development Manager (Youth) for BC Rugby. “It’s flag rugby, so there’s no contact, its easy for the kids to learn the rules and it gets them thinking about working as a team to achieve a goal.  But if you ask the kids, they just love the exhilaration of picking up a rugby ball and running with it.  Even watching from the sidelines, the enthusiasm is infectious.”

After some early forays into local schools in 2004, the PAL Rugby Program received a boost in the form of a grant from the Vancouver Police Foundation in 2017.  This allowed them to purchase some equipment and dedicate more hours to delivering sessions in schools.  Since then, there has been a steady growth and increasing amounts of interaction with rugby clubs in the Lower Mainland as well.  “A number of the kids get really hooked on the sport by the end of the program, so we’re working hard to try to get them connected with local rugby clubs in their area,” said Viljoen.

“This is a big part of what the PAL program is about for us” said Constable Stuart Hurst, who also happens to be the President of Justice Rugby, a Rugby Club for police personnel in the Lower Mainland “A big focus for us is youth outreach, in this case through sport, because we really want the kids to see the VPD as approachable and relatable.  PAL started over 100 years ago in New York with that very same initiative, building bridges between the police and community and providing a way to make a positive impact for kids.”  PAL already has well-established programs in other sports such as basketball, hockey, soccer and softball but also includes other activities like dodgeball and running.  Talking to Constable Hurst, he sees rugby as a perfect fit for this program, commenting “The best thing about rugby is that it accepts everybody, there’s no demographic that is excluded.  For boys and girls at this age, they’re all just as keen as each other to be in the thick of the action.”
With dedicated individuals and the support of VPD’s PAL program, it’s no wonder that rugby is reaching more and more schoolchildren.  In just two short years over a dozen schools have now engaged with the 6-week program, many of them happily returning each year.  Britta Rustad, a teacher at Elsie Roy in Downtown Vancouver, remarked that the program had been such a hit with their staff, pupils and parents that “if we did not have the program continuing to run this year, there would be questions why. Family support has been strong, and our students have loved this new opportunity.”

While the Vancouver PAL Rugby program has wrapped up for 2019, next year’s programs are already in development and expected to be as popular as ever.  “We’re already working on the community visits with the teams taking part in the HSBC Canada Sevens” said Viljoen, “and then after spring break there will be another five-week program delivered to more schools.  Hopefully, we’re able to build even more support for this delivery and expand it to many more regions.  It is helping introduce rugby to a new generation of Canadian children and we need that grassroots growth to help drive the success of rugby in BC and beyond.”

If you would like more information on delivering Rookie Rugby in your school/youth centre, contact Thomas Viljoen – [email protected]