- Rochdale RFC tie up with local Special School
- Redwood youngsters quickly into their rugby stride
Photo: RFU Archive
Links between special schools for pupils with moderate and severe learning difficulties and rugby union clubs have been strengthening annually in the North West.
As part of the Rugby Football Union’s drive to provide a sporting opportunity for all, the latest tie-up has been in Rochdale, where the RFU and club are combining to deliver rugby to their neighbours Redwood Special School, which is attended by 235 pupils aged 11 to 19 with moderate (MLD) and severe learning difficulties (SLD).
Not for the first time, the annual North West MLD/SLD Tag Rugby Festival at Blackburn Rugby Union Football Club in May was the catalyst for another school becoming involved in the game. Community Rugby Coach Aaron Howorth approached the school regarding the possibility of running a tag rugby after-school club with a view to entering a team in the festival.
Staff at Redwood agreed to support the initiative and the sessions regularly attracted 19 pupils, both male and female with varying disabilities. The vision was to enter only one MLD team in the festival, but due to the overwhelming success of the programme, staff where able to enter both a MLD and SLD team in the festival.
As a result, 20 pupils from Redwood, who had no exposure to rugby before, were in action at Blackburn.
Scheme a great success
"I have been made to feel welcome by both staff and pupils and working at Redwood has become the highlight of my week," said CRC Aaron.
"In all my years of working in sport development I can quite honestly say that I had not experienced a festival like the one at Blackburn RUFC – it was fantastic. Festivals take a lot of organisation and running but they are nothing without the participants that take part.
"From the moment all staff and pupils arrived I felt a great sense of pride that they would be representing Redwood and the borough of Rochdale. I was so in awe of what the pupils had done during the day after such limited coaching.
"The Wooden Spoon Tag Rugby Festival is all about fun and participation and that’s exactly what we achieved on the day."
Next stage in the process following the continuation of the after-school programme was to enter a team in the Greater Manchester Disability Games at Leigh Village, with a team of 10 taking part in the MLD girls tag rugby event. A morning coaching session from local club volunteers from clubs in Wigan gave the girls a real boost, so much so that they finished second in the tournament.
The girls received further plaudits by entering into the true spirit of rugby by helping out teams that did not have enough numbers.
The next step in strengthening the Rochdale/Redwood association will be a friendly tag rugby match at Rochdale with a team from visitors Stockport RFC before the two teams meet in National League 3 North on October 9, 2010. Stockport have had a section for youngsters with learning difficulties for a while and Rochdale will be rolling out the red carpet for their visitors.
The match will take place on the main pitch, allowing pupils to showcase their skills to the watching club members, parents and senior players. Players and staff will then be VIP guests of Rochdale President Wendy Sutherland. The fixture will also be reversed back at Stockport in January.
Ahead of those matches, Saturday morning sessions are now on the Redwood rugby timetable, with Eddie Timlin, a university student who recently attended the Rugby Football Union’s Young Leaders Camp at Nottingham Trent University, providing the link between the club and the school.