Rugby in America is growing all the time, and the Eagles should cause quite a stir when they take their place at Rugby World Cup 2015. But not many people are aware of the great work being done in local communities through rugby. In Memphis, two rugby loving teachers have harnessed a love for the sport and turned it into a life-changing academic and social programme. We caught up with one of the founders of Memphis Inner City Rugby – Shane Young – to find out more.
Gilbert Rugby: What inspired you to begin Memphis Inner City Rugby?
Shane Young: After graduating college in Florida, I earned a job as a teacher in Memphis. Rugby had given me so much in my young life, so I immediately knew that I wanted to pass on the power of rugby to kids in Memphis. My idea was to just form one team and coach them. Then I was introduced to one of my best friends, Devin O'Brien, who had also just become a new teacher in Memphis. Devin and I started the first MICR team together in 2012, and quickly learned that bringing rugby to Memphis' roughest areas could be a transformational force in the lives of many more young men and women.
GR: What is the aim of MICR?
SY: We seek to expand academic and athletic opportunity for kids in low-income communities throughout Memphis.
GR: How popular is the programme proving?
SY: Ever since we introduced rugby to our partner schools, they have adopted it as their own. We've gotten 100% buy-in from the schools we serve because they are first-hand witnesses to how rugby influences their students. Now that we've served more than 5 schools in the city, even more schools are soliciting our service and we are hoping to bring rugby to their students. We have plans to expand to some of those schools over the next few years.
GR: Rugby is obviously important, but you have made education a huge focal point of MICR – how important is this for you?
SY: We simply use rugby as a platform to change the trajectory of a student's life. We help kids fall in love with the game, and once they do, we use rugby to hold them accountable for high personal, academic, & leadership standards. For many of our students, academics is the only way to escape the cycle of poverty they've been born into. We realize this, and we refuse to let athletics come before schooling.
GR: How did you come to be involved with rugby in the city? What is your background?
SY: I was blessed by learning the game of rugby when I was 11 years old growing up in New Jersey. I found success in the more competitive levels of the game years later, and was fortunate enough to play for USA U-19s on an English tour when I was 18. Through college I continued to play and even founded my own college team at Florida Gulf Coast University which helped equip me with the leadership/organizational skills required to start MICR. When I met Devin O'Brien after moving to Memphis, we quickly started our own team and began to solicit the support of all the people who we could get to believe in us.
GR: Have you had much support from the wider rugby community?
SY: The American and global rugby communities have been outstanding supporters, especially since we have been able to effectively tell our story with "The Power Rugby"
. There are also several individuals from the local rugby community in Memphis who have been heroes to our kids by volunteering as coaches, or even gathering up used equipment for our kids to train with.
GR: Do you think you can produce international players from the programme?
SY: Yes, 100%. I have no doubt in my mind that the talent in Memphis is stronger than it is most places in the world. In just three short years our program has already yielded one of the most sought after young players entering the college level.
Watch the great documentary above
GR: What is the ultimate goal for MICR?
SY: To provide a world-class, life changing experience to every student in Memphis who wants to give rugby a try. We also want to inspire rugby leaders around America to focus their attention on bringing the game to regions of economic disadvantage and ethnic diversity.
GR: Talk about the challenges you face and how people can find out more information.
SR: Despite the amazing support we've received from Gilbert and many others over the past few months, our organization remains in a constant financial struggle. Our primary expense is the $75.00 minimum per-player registration requirement from USA Rugby. MICR covers that cost, and all other costs for the student-athletes we serve. Moving forward, we are hoping to supply our coaches with small stipends to reward them for the herculean efforts they give our kids all year long. This will allow us to hold our coaches even more accountable for delivering a life-changing experience, as well as attract more coaches to join our crusade.
Visit the website and find out how you can support their mission at http://www.memphisinnercityrugby.com/donate-to-micr/
For the most recent updates, follow their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MemphisInnerCityRugby
Finally, enjoy the incredible story of the team at Power Center Academy and their historic journey to the Tennessee State Championship through the new documentary, "The Power of Rugby" here: https://youtu.be/qorAUOrKIH0