Coach David Hughes (left) and players celebrate a tournament victory.
As an African American youth, our generation is masked as being the Achilles heel to our communities. We are labeled as consumers who keep receiving, yet never give back. While our futures seem dim there is that one glimpse of light that manages to keep us grounded, disciplined, and unique. Sports are an outlet for struggling youth to participate in when times get tough. While many would say they participate in basketball or football, many students at ICEF would say Rugby.
Rugby is a style of football that developed at Rugby School, one of many different versions of the sport that was played in English Public Schools in the 19th century. A simple way to describe this unknown sport in the inner city would be football without pads. The game is simple: keep passing the ball, protect the ball and score over the try line, which in football terms would be a “Touchdown.” These lessons are taught at ICEF’s View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School in South Los Angeles. While View Park is not the only ICEF Public School, it is home of some of the best rugby players in the ICEF Rugby program past and present.
The men behind the operation to develop the best rugby players on the field and noble citizens off the field are Rugby Director and Coach Stuart Krohn and Rugby Coach David Hughes.
Hughes’ mission statement is aligned with ICEF Public Schools, “The mission statement of ICEF Rugby is in line with that of ICEF Public Schools. The mission of ICEF Public Schools is to prepare all students to attend and compete at the top 100 colleges and universities in the nation. We try to relate everything we do to College and how the skills they learn with us will translate to other real life situations like college and work,” he said.
They have succeeded in manufacturing college students and disciplined players for over a decade. The ICEF Rugby program has taken inner city youth out of South Los Angeles and has sent them to different parts of the world. This has given players the opportunity to experience different styles of play and living in another country outside of the United States. In the past four years trips have included: South Africa, New Zealand and Tahiti, China, and most recently England and France. These trips provide players with the experience of living life in another country outside of the United States. On these trips players compete in rugby tournaments and stay with host families during their visit, which provides students with cultural interaction. Furthermore, players sightsee during free time with breathtaking sights, and interact with kids at local schools.
Student-Athlete Jabari Fernandes who attends View Park High School is going into his senior year and has been on 3 of the last 4 tours. Fernandes says that rugby impacts his life.
“Rugby has taught me life lessons as well as given me a sport I love to play,” he said.
These trips also provide student-athletes with motivation to do well in the classroom as in order to participate on these trips you must be in good academic standing. There have been instances when students cannot attend the international trips due to poor academic and behavioral standing.
“To play rugby you have to be eligible. This alone encourages students to stay on top of their academics. There are many instances of players missing out on playoffs and especially the international trips because their grades or their behavior is not where it needs to be. So yes, I firmly believe our program helps students with their academics and general school attitude,” Hughes says.
Genieva Burks, also a student at View Park High School believes being in the rugby program helps her academically, “Playing rugby helps me to stay focused on my academics because I know that in order to continue playing the sport I love I must always excel in school,” she said.
ICEF Rugby builds characters in its players, and as we step on the field facing our opponents we face the adversity as not being as good as the other team. As a dominantly African American team when we step on the fields of the dominantly Caucasian schools we must show excellence. We must represent our community in a positive manner, and we do it as a team. We prove the critics of our work ethic wrong, and we prove that we belong. The stereotype that all black youth are criminals, disrespectful, and uneducated is dropped on us before first impressions. It is our duty to turn the tide. ICEF Rugby is not just a black team learning about the sport of rugby. ICEF represents so much more than that.
“Trust has to be implicit. We cannot take students somewhere where they could damage the name of ICEF Rugby. We make this clear early on and bad behavior has consequences. It is never the best players that go on our rugby trips, but the best people,” Hughes said.
To reiterate ICEF Rugby has zero tolerance for students who feel playing for the team is a right. Playing for ICEF Rugby is a privilege and a great honor. The history in its past is remarkable and the future is great.
When we leave the country we are representing two things: the black community, and the United States. We show them that we do not have tails, we show them we do not cause chaos, we show them the positive masked with negative. We show them our perspective, our story, our unity.
Our image is depicted by those who do not know our point of view. ICEF Rugby gives us a chance to tell our story. From different backgrounds we come together to make something great. We are involved with our communities, yet we now know there is more than just Los Angeles. We are a brotherhood and a sisterhood. We bring out the best in each other, and ICEF Rugby has inspired us to change the image of our current youth. And change we will.
“Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.” –Nelson Mandela