ROTHERHAM is, and probably always will be, a football town, but new plans being hatched could help turn more youngsters on to the delights of the oval ball.
A pathway put together by Rotherham Rugby Club and its Community Foundation with help from Thomas Rotherham College allows kids to play the game from the of age 11 right through to 18 while getting a good education at the same time.
St Bernard's, Wales, Wickersley, Winterhill, Brinsworth, Wath, Oakwood and Dinnington secondary schools are already on board with the new initiative which will see youngsters get regular coaching visits from Titans players and coaches.
But rather than potentially being lost to the game at 16, they have the option to join the Rugby Academy programme at Thomas Rotherham College which allows 16-18 year-olds to continue playing in college hours while pressing on with their studies.
The scheme is being hailed as a win for the schools, a win for the college, a potential win for local rugby clubs and, most importantly, for the kids themselves.
“This is our place in Rotherham's new rugby pathway,” said TRC assistant principal Chris Walls.
“Whether kids want to be an accountant, an architect, a police officer or whatever, their studies will fit around the rugby. We are not tying people into any specific course.”
The scholars enjoy nine hours of rugby a week. All of it is in the day and games are on Wednesday afternoons.
“It is quite a big commitment but in those nine hours you get pitch sessions and gym sessions,” says Chris.
“If anyone tells me they are behind with their studies, they don't train or play until they catch up.
“In all honesty, their main earner is going to be their job so we need to make sure their academics are right.”
TRC is now taking applications for September, which will be something of a landmark month in the plans to give rugby in the town a lasting shot in the arm.
Titans, with the support of specialists White Rose Rugby, are already making tracks into schools and teaching kids the basics of the game in preparation for 12 schools rugby festivals to be held throughout the year for Years 7-11.
“The bigger picture is trying to develop rugby in Rotherham,” said Steve Salvin, head coach at Rotherham Titans, who is helping drive the scheme.
“If a kid who likes rugby is happy going into the sixth form at his school because that’s where their mates are and where they're happiest, that's 100 per cent the right thing to do.
“But if they want the combination of playing rugby and studying, the option is there at TRC.”
Rotherham's new rugby pathway doesn't come to a dead end at 18 either.
Sheffield's Hallam University's rugby programme offers the chance to play on while pursuing vocational and academic qualifications.
“At the moment there is no pathway for older lads who can live here and get a degree education and a good rugby programme,” added Steve.
“It's not in their mind at the moment because it hasn't been done but it is going to be in place now.
“Let's face it, Rotherham is very much a football town. I don't expect rugby to overtake football but opportunity is key when it comes to kids deciding what sport they want to purse. When it comes to rugby, this will give them the opportunity.”
ARE you aged 16-18? Interested in playing rugby and studying at the same time? Contact admissions at TRC on 1709 300606 or firstname.lastname@example.org