NEW HAVEN - Throw away the glove, toss aside the pigskin and forget about a slam-dunk. Rather than the traditional, high profile sports of baseball, football and basketball, rugby has been introduced to youngsters at the Urban Youth Elementary School.


A total of 20 kids from the elementary school participated in the first Rugby Camp for inner city kids. Because of safety concerns, the kids played a touch version of the rough and tumble sport. The pilot program is a partnership between the New Haven Public Education Fund, New Haven Rugby and Urban Youth Elementary School.


Pablo Perez, a New Haven rugby player and youth director of the camp said the goal was to enhance teamwork, respect and discipline. The program seeks to improve both academic achievements and classroom behavior of students at the transitional school.


After three days of practice, the students got a chance to show folks what they learned during a half-time scrimmage at a New Haven rugby game on April 20. On April 27, the teams squared off once again with the help and assistance of New Haven rugby players. Since the children knew little about rugby, Perez said he decided to focus on teaching them the basics.


Lydia Bornick, executive director of New Haven Education Fund, said Perez and other New Haven rugby players approached them with the idea for the touch rugby camp. "You could really see how they were willing to work with the kids and the school in a meaningful way," said Bornick about Perez and the other players. Bornick hopes the relationships formed between the players and the kids will continue beyond this month. She said companies and corporations are always welcome to create or take part in a program that benefits the children.


As for the game, it was the green team walking away with a 7-5 victory, although official scoring wasn't kept. Ten-year-olds Benji Alexander and William Winfrey of the green team had the score slightly more in their favor. "We won 10-4," they both said arm and arm. After the game, some friendly roughhousing occurred, but both teams lined up and shook hands. Then they proceeded to run through a tunnel created by the New Haven rugby team to cheers and applause from the crowd.


Benji and William both said they enjoy scoring points the best. "When I would make a touchdown, everyone was cheering for me," said Benji.

©New Haven Register 2003