Boys and girls in Durham are learning a new sport - rugby - from Duke University students and volunteers.
About 30 youths, most ages 9 and 10, have been learning the game since August in an in-house fall league at the John Avery Boys and Girls Club at 808 E. Pettigrew St.
"It has been a pretty good response for such a new program," said James Gillenwater, a second-year law student who formed the league as his N.C. Albert Schweitzer Fellowship health-based project, which is to promote youth fitness through sports.
At 4:30 p.m. Friday, the final day of their league, the youths, most ages 9 and 10, will play a flag rugby game.
Then, at about 5 p.m., they will get to see the real thing - lots of "tackling and other elements of the sport they haven't seen," Gillenwater said - in an exhibition match played by Duke’s grads and undergrads, along with Eno River Rugby Club players.
"We wanted to bring the rugby to them," Gillenwater said.
Eno's Mark Cromwell was instrumental in helping recruit volunteers from the club and the Duke grad team and for teaching fundamentals to the youths, said Gillenwater, 27, who is from Glasgow, Ky., and obtained his bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt.
Duke medical school students and nursing students plus undergrads, law school students and business school students also are helping.
The goal is to continue building "the foundation for youth rugby in the area" in a spring league, Gillenwater said. Right now, the kids play each other, but efforts are under way to line up matches against other organizations.
All the while, Gillenwater is continuing his studies.
"It has been a big time commitment," he said, "but defintely worth every minute."
Funds are needed to buy balls and jerseys for the youths. To donate, contact the John Avery Boys and Girls Club at 919-688-7315.
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