VPD officers Michael Kajander and Stuart Hurst have channelled their passion for rugby into a program for underprivileged youth. Justice Rugby combines learning how to play rugby (a modified version with no tackling), with building teamwork skills, resiliency (learning how to accept losses), encouraging others and simply having fun.
Despite being a global, inclusive sport, most children in Vancouver won’t experience rugby unless they attend certain schools or if their family is involved. Yet the popularity in recent years of Rugby 7s and the star power of the All Blacks, Springboks, Wallabies and more has captured the attention of Vancouver’s youth.
Justice Rugby started as a few clinics at underprivileged schools and has now “morphed into two large tournaments per year and programming in between” according to Stu. When questioned about the rise in popularity, he said that “it’s a sport that’s for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl, big, small, tall or short – there’s a spot on the team for everybody. And you are part of that team.” That sense of belonging is so critical to youth who may otherwise feel alone or isolated. And it’s a belonging that lasts a lifetime – rugby connects people around the world.
Not only that, but Justice Rugby has been tapped to help national Rugby 7 teams like Samoa, Scotland, England, France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Chile and Japan deliver all their community programming while in Vancouver. The opportunity for Vancouver youth to meet these players is often life-changing.
And so is playing with the police. Mike and Stu strongly believe that one of the important outcomes of this program is the bridge-building that happens between the youth and their coaches. “Officers Kajander and Hearst” become “Coach Mike” and “Coach Stu” and that subtle shift is sometimes enough to help troubled or at-risk youth make better choices.
We’ll have more to share with you when the Justice Rugby program returns (hopefully this fall!). But in the meantime, those of you who are unfamiliar with this incredible sport can learn more thanks to the CBC Gem documentary series.
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