Monday, May 22, 2017

Joeys Jump Onto the Akron Rugby Scene

Another season of youth rugby competition in Ohio came to a close over the weekend. While some players went home to await another chance to compete and play next year, there’s a contingent of young players and coaches in Akron that are just getting started. The Greater Akron Joeys is a new, on-contact youth program that is open to boys and girls between the ages of six and 12. The group is planning to bring the sport of rugby to the young masses, unfettered by an eight-week schedule.

This program, which caters to youth, was spearheaded by the elder statesmen of the Akron rugby community. The Greater Akron Rugby Fund and the active players have been exposing the youth to the sport in a big way recently. From the club and college level on down to the high schools, the organizations have been pounding the pavement and spreading the gospel of rugby throughout the area. While there has been success on those fronts, a piece was still missing.

“We still do not have a presence in the schools in Akron proper,” said Bob Perko, one of the rugby evangelists powering the program. “This is our first step in that development.  We hope to build a strong youth presence that may provide a future for rugby in the Akron school system.”

Perko isn’t alone in his efforts get the Joeys going. He has surrounded himself with the proper people necessary to make the Joeys as strong as possible. Cory Langenbeck has been instrumental in starting the youth scene in Canton and is lending his knowledge to help bring rugby to the young people. Ed Muse has taken on a less glamorous but equally important role in this endeavor: doing administrative work. Perhaps the most important partnership is the one between the Joeys and the City of Akron and other organizations in the area. Combined with help from the GARF, these partnerships have set the Joeys on a strong path.

For Berko and those that invested time and effort into the Joeys, the program will be more than a one-stop means for a few years of friendly competition. When players get involved the plan is for them to remain active in rugby and the community beyond their involvement with the Joeys.


“It seems like there is a need for programs like ours - something that is inexpensive to participate in, has low equipment costs and involves the community. Our hope for the future is to have a program that is impactful to rugby and to the kids that participate,” Perko said. “We would like to develop rugby in the greater Akron area so it’s not an obscure sport, but something that is a positive activity that the local communities can participate in.  We hope to leave a positive, lasting impact on the participants and people involved.  Even if it’s not for some and they don’t return, we hope that they still leave with a good experience.”

For those that do stick around, the Joeys plan to offer an expanse of unique experiences to the players and families. One of those experiences is family night. The group will take time to give information about rugby to parents so they can learn about rugby as their children do. Parents will also have the opportunity to play alongside their children during the regular event. As far as the track beyond the Joeys, players will be put in a pipeline to make playing at higher levels of the sport as easy as possible.

“We hope to build a program that will help feed into the University of Akron rugby program for those athletes that choose to stay in Akron and attend the university,” Perko said. “We are also hoping that, through our program, the players build a strong foundation for success, not only in rugby, but in their lives.”

What makes the Joeys truly unique from other youth rugby programs is that competition seems to be secondary. The philosophy of the Joeys is “Better Living Through Rugby.” While involved with the Joeys, players and families will learn about rugby, sportsmanship, community values, the joys of healthy competition and self-respect. The organizers of the Joeys even plan to help players develop an appropriate diet for a developing athlete by providing healthy food at events. The organizers of the Joeys want to bring this positivity to as many people as positive, and are working to break down as many barriers as possible.

“While any competitor wants to win, that is not our only goal. We are very inclusive. We want people to participate and have fun,” Perko said. “We are offering a free program. To help recruit we’ve been targeting local schools and outreach programs.  It appears there is a need for low-cost programs for the kids. We are providing that. We are putting in the time to build relationships with local business and individuals to help fund the program, and push this along. We also need and want the involvement of the community and families that participate.”

When the group solidifies and begins to field teams, players will travel to compete against squads in neighboring cities. First, the Joeys will try to make an impact on its local scene.

"Right now, we hope to get enough participants to have a strong intramural competition," Perko said. "As the program grows, and we get some experience, we would like to face the competition in the Greater Akron and Cleveland areas. Canton Rugby is building a youth program, and Cleveland Rugby has a strong presence in the lower levels. I do not see lack of competition being an issue as our program grows."

The Greater Akron Joeys encourage any and all families in the area interested in the sport an opportunity to participate. While the group’s Web site is very bare bones, it has the most essential page in tact: the registration page. Families interested in becoming involved can go to the Joeys’ Facebook page or e-mail the Joeys directly for more information and details.


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