Member of the Month – Oakland Warthogs Youth Rugby Program

Each month the Global Rugby Collaborative highlights one of our member organizations to introduce them to the wider#rugby4good community and to help promote their work. We are pleased to recognize the Oakland Warthogs Youth Rugby Program as the first Member of the Month. Learn about their history, mission and what it takes to Grind the Dirt!

Warthogs team photo

Based in Oakland, California, USA, the Oakland Warthogs Youth Rugby Club was founded in 2005. Coach Ryan Burke has been with the program from the beginning and is passionate about using rugby for good: “Kids should become better kids because of rugby.” Burke first recognized the sport’s positive influence as a player in college, where he says he got more out of rugby than with any other sport. It’s emphasis on discipline and teamwork are vital to success and “it emulates life – things get messed up and you have to adapt and sometimes have a short memory to keep driving forward.” In a community where just 60% of high school students graduate and nearly half of all children live in families where neither parent has a full time job, those character skills become essential. The Warthogs Rugby program instills this attitude in all of their players and makes education a priority. At its core, the program exists to improve the lives and character of young men in Oakland, while motivating them to obtain a college education.

The Warthogs  use ‎#rugbyforgood by emphasizing education as a means to better the lives of their players, requiring them to turn in grades before being allowed to play. In the last year coaches have gone beyond just talking about the importance of higher education, and now actively mentor players to help improve their chances of enrolling in college. Players attend seminars at local colleges to learn what university life has to offer them for both education and rugby. However, the Warthogs experience doesn’t stop at rugby and college mentoring – earlier this year they held a first ever Teamwork Training to help improve the team’s communication, commitment and brotherhood. During a 4 hour ropes course players were challenged to communicate with one another to achieve common goals, much like they do on the rugby pitch, and every player was given an opportunity to take on leadership roles and have their voice heard.

It’s this type of attitude the coaches believe the program instills in their young men and what it means to GRIND THE DIRT: doing the hard work it takes to succeed by being proactive, setting goals and holding yourself and your teammates accountable. It’s this frame of mind that has led to the success of the program and their efforts to strengthen the Oakland community.

In a city where 25% of families with children live in poverty one of the values the Warthogs program hopes to instill in its players is the importance of giving back to the community. Although the majority of players have experienced challenging circumstances themselves and often come from neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and crime, the program reinforces the importance of helping others in need through community service projects. Players are asked to look inward and find the passion needed to strengthen their community.

This season the Warthogs set a new service record, participating in six Community Building projects, more than any year before! Throughout the season players did a variety of things from donating food and warm clothing to the homeless, assisting in reviving a horticulture garden, and volunteering with little ruggers at a the Play Rugby USA California San Francisco Cup! The Warthogs have set themselves apart from just another rugby club – these projects foster a culture of goodwill and strengthen not only the team but the Oakland community as a whole.

Head coach and co-founder Ryan Burke has worked with all of the nearly 150 students who have worn the Warthogs jersey since the program began and he has been especially proud of their accomplishments in the last few years. As this past season came to a close the team congratulated five boys who earned their high school diploma, all of whom have made plans to attend college this coming fall. The Warthogs appear to be on a winning streak as the year before they produced seven graduating seniors who all went on to attend college. Not many programs can claim 100% college enrollment rates amongst their participants, and Burke attributes much of this to the intrinsic values he feels get passed on to the boys as they play rugby.

 Looking ahead the Warthogs plan to build on the educational and college readiness elements in their program. Coach Burke says they are looking to implement a pre-practice tutoring program for all its players to take advantage of, offering one-on-one homework help and test prep for students toenhance their learning experience and readiness for college. However, in order to launch this much needed program the Warthogs must find funding for the project, either through sponsorship or grants and volunteer tutors and mentors. If you have any sponsorship leads or contacts, or would like to get involved as a tutor please contact the program.

Thanks again to the Warthogs for allowing us to highlight their #rugby4good! We are proud to count them as a member of the Global Rugby Collaborative and look forward to following their continued success! To get updates about the Warthogs as they Grind the Dirt in Oakland head over to their facebook page.

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