By Tricia Ruggeri
The Pittsburgh Harlequin Rugby Football Association (PHRFA) has surely made it’s mark in the greater Pittsburgh area. Recognized in one of the highest level’s of Men’s Rugby Club competition, the Harlequins maintain a well respected stature in the sports community nationwide. Their passion for the sport, however, doesn’t stop at their dedicated strive towards national athletic success, but shares a equally mutual level of compassion to better the lives of young people in at-risk communities in Pittsburgh, such as Garfield, Homewood, Hazelwood and Braddock. The PHRFA uses a volunteer network of nationally certified rugby coaches and players to provide community rugby programs to disadvantaged youth throughout Allegheny County.
Their extended hand begins by offering youth from ages 8-14 an opportunity to play non-contact version of rugby (similar to flag football, they say). In this sense, the sport calls on a similar, familiar skill set that flag football would require, while simultaneously teaching a new sport. Practices are held in-neighborhood, in order to keep the youth in their element. Programs run for 10 weeks every Tuesday and Thursday. Locations alternate: every Tuesday the meets are in the program’s neighborhood, while Thursday travel around to other neighborhoods.
Importantly, youth not only learn the sport of rugby, but the foundational values it takes to be a valuable member of both the team, that subsequently transfer over into everyday life. Sports can play a life-changing role in these young people’s lives, as they help instill self confidence, leadership and integrity, through being a team player. The implementation of these wonderful programs are so crucial in communities where troubling factors, most beyond a young persons control, are more likely to contribute to heading down a path in life misrepresentative of productive success in our society. Findings have shown an immense correlation between the availability of these programs in low-income areas and reduced juvenile crime-rates.
“For example, Fort Myers, Fla., police reported that juvenile arrests dropped by nearly one-third since the city began the STARTS (Success Through Academics and Recreational Support) Program. Norfolk, Va., forged a partnership between police, human service agencies and local citizens that included starting new youth athletic leagues, which led to a 29 percent drop in crime in the targeted neighborhoods and a citywide reduction in violent crime. And when Phoenix basketball courts and other recreation facilities are kept open late during the summer, calls to police reporting juvenile crime drop by as much as 55 percent. There are countless additional examples that all lead to the conclusion that giving at-risk kids a chance to play sports keeps them healthier, in school and out of gangs and trouble.” (http://goo.gl/gyTQHp)
In an interview with the Trib, PHRFA alum and current coach Davon Dixon says:
“Growing up, trouble was easy to find, but rugby helped me maintain a level of integrity,” Dixon, 23, of Penn Hills, says. “It taught me how to be a gentleman”. At age 13, the then Garfield resident says the program taught him accountability. “When you are out there playing and you make a mistake, that’s on you,” Dixon says. “It is a team sport, but you have to make good decisions, and when you make a bad one, you learn it’s best to take responsibility”. You can read more of Dixon’s inspiring words at http://triblive.com/lifestyles/morelifestyles/6984028-74/rugby-says-dixon.
A healthy future and better well-being of low-income youth depends on programs such as the The Pittsburgh Harlequin Rugby Football Association. It’s programs like these that make a real difference in the lives of Pittsburgh youth.
“Life Skills: No fighting, no cussing • School Matters • Respect yourself and others • Be responsible for your own actions • Keep it positive, rugby and life”