If a pair of ice skates and a mouth guard are your two most important pieces of sports equipment, you’re most likely a hockey player or a very bad figure skater.Ten-year-old Audra Nelson is neither.Nelson is the unusual combination of figure skater and rugby player.The Matthews fifth-grader has been skating since kindergarten, but two years ago she joined Elizabeth Lane Elementary’s after school “touch” rugby program, becoming part of a rapidly growing sport in the south Charlotte area.Coordinators of two local organizations – the Charlotte Junior Rugby Association and the Matthews Rugby Club – say hundreds of youths now are playing some version of organized rugby.Part of the organizations’ mission is to introduce the sport to children at a young age so they will be prepared to play rugby – especially the more traditional tackle version – at an older age, such as in middle school, high school and beyond.Both local clubs have programs starting this week.The MRC’s weekly fall academy for elementary and middle school children will start Sept. 5 at the Raintree Soccer Fields behind the Arboretum Shopping Center. It is a “touch” rugby, or two-hand tap, program, and club Director Adam Angulo expects a little less than 100 participants.CJRA also has a weekly fall camp, starting Sept. 3 at its home site, the British American School in Ballantyne. It is a tackle program for youths age 7-17, though most of the participants are in grades four through six.CJRA’s touch rugby programs, based at various elementary schools, will start in October. Each site is led by a CJRA certified coach and a school staff member.Elementary schools with CJRA after-school rugby programs are Elizabeth Lane, Ballantyne, Endhaven, St. Matthews, Indian Trail, Polo Ridge, and the Military Global Leadership Academy at Marie G. Davis. There also are community programs in Ballantyne and Cornelius, and program coordinator Erik Saxon says programs are pending at several other schools.Both CJRA and MRC are exploring the possibility of developing touch rugby league play.CJRA coach Matt Henry doubles as an Elizabeth Lane Elementary School physical education teacher. He introduced the sport to his students, including Audra, two years ago.“I’m glad that I do the two different sports,” said Audra. “Ice skating is more of a single person’s sport. I get to do things on my own.“In rugby I get to play on a team with different people. I get to learn both, and I think that’s really good for me.”Audra already is committed to the school’s rugby program for this year. She’s considering registering for the fall tackle camp, if she can fit it around her figure-skating schedule.CJRA tackle camps are designed to transition touch players to the real rugby game, just as MRC clinics are. CJRA also sponsors tackle teams at these middle schools: Community House, Alexander Graham, South Charlotte, Bailey and Military Global Leadership Academy.“We introduce the very basics of rugby,” Henry said. “We teach them how to tackle. We go over technique and give them confidence to tackle.“A lot has to do with safety. We’re very conscientious about teaching the fundamentals of rugby and being safe while doing it.”
Friday, Aug. 30, 2013
Rugby programs taking hold in south Charlotte
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at email@example.com.
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