On any given Saturday morning, Wrentham, Massachusetts could be confused for its U.K. cousin based on the types of activities around town. Wrentham is well known for its vibrant youth soccer program and is home to the Boston Gymkhana Sports Cricket Club, two beloved sports across the pond. A third sport has been added to the mix. Thanks to Chip Walker, he has brought rugby football to town.
Originally from England, Walker was raised on rugby and he wanted to share his passion for the game with his son and the youth in the area. After successfully holding a workshop at the YMCA he decided a program was needed and started the King Philip RFC Blackcaps, a rugby football club for boys and girls ages 5 to 10. After a year and half, the program is growing slowly but steadily. “We’re still small,” Walker explains. “We don’t have enough players for a full team.”
The loyal group of boys, girls and parents meet on Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. and work on basic skills of the game, fun drills and then play a pickup game that requires everyone’s participation, including the parents. The number one priority during their practice is safety. Walker believes with rugby you should almost never get tackled.
Walker is looking to recruit more kids and develop a sustainable program. “We’re almost ready to play other teams,” he explains. He is hoping to draw players from the surrounding towns. Already there are children on the Blackcaps that come from Norfolk, Plainville, and Franklin in addition to Wrentham.
Recruiting so far has been pretty much word of mouth. “People drive by and see us and they join in,” says Steve Signes one of the parents involved with the program.
Dianne Hooper’s son David is playing and she is very happy with the experience. Hooper, an ex-college rugby player, likes the approach Walker takes with an emphasis on fun and providing a safe environment for the children to learn the sport. “Kids are really into it,” she says. "And it’s really safe.”
Another common comment among parents is the nature of program. While the game is taken seriously and safety is stressed at all times, there is a free flowing quality to the KP Blackcaps program that isn't offered with more established youth programs. Unlike other sports which have several practices a week, the program currently only meets for an hour practice on Saturdays with a few special events from time time. Recently, the group attended a rugby match at Brown University and had an opportunity to meet players from the Princeton team. The coach for Princeton, Emil Signes, is the grandfather of Francesca Signes, one of the Blackcaps players.
The kids even get into some of the fun traditions rugby offers such as performing a Haka made popular by teams from New Zealand. It's a cheer, complete with choreography, that teams typically do before a match. The KP Blackcaps enjoy delivering the Haka for an audience complete with menacing scowls and laughter.
Walker is hoping more children will come out and try the sport. The program doesn't have a home field yet, so if people are interested in trying out the program they should contact Walker directly at at firstname.lastname@example.org. The group also has a Facebook page that provides information on the program.
To view a few more photos of KP RFC Bkackcaps in action view a photo album here.