USARFU's touch-rugby curriculum for gym classes and other beginner environments is on pace for 15 percent annual growth, according to union officials.
Rookie Rugby could reach more than 500,000 kids this year, up from 350,000 in 2010. The figure is premised on counting the total number of kids in any given school district or youth sports program with teachers and administrators who have been trained to present rugby lessons.
With such growth and low-cost operations, the four-year-old program looks to have become one of Boulder's most successful initiatives of the past decade. Last week Rookie Rugby earned USARFU the International Rugby Board's annual development award, becoming the first union to claim the honor.
Overseen by Boulder's youth department, propagation turns on a 'train the trainers' model, whereby USARFU staff or local personnel educate gym teachers, youth athletic leaders, and the like. The latter then lead touch rugby in school gym classes and similar environments, aided by lesson plans, videos, and other teaching aids.
As one example, an August program in Greensboro, North Carolina, trained some 200 gym teachers in the Guilford County School District. Wake Forest players have subsequently gone to several schools each week in support of the teachers. By result, 'We've exposed somewhere between 5,000-10,000 kids to the sport in that two-month period', a local official estimated.
The union's cost of organising teacher-training sessions is typically $500 or so, comprising airfare, hotel, and meals. Sometimes Boulder pays the cost directly, and sometimes the tab is picked up by state-based rugby organisations (so-called SBROs, USARFU-accredited youth organizing bodies), which may in turn use USARFU grant monies. Once initiated, school personnel can theoretically repeat the rugby curricula year after year, with no further instruction.
The program lacks tight, ready-made connections with youth teams, however. 'We're currently working on bridging the gaps between the [Rookie Rugby] and school modules and local youth teams. ... It is a critical component,' USARFU operations director Jim Synder Snyder said.
'For the more established SBROs this is becoming easier and easier as they are often the ones introducing the RR and can then follow up with the participants to provide them information about local leagues / teams', Snyder observed, adding that kids are 75 percent more likely to play a sport they've tried in gym class.
Rookie Rugby 'gives a taste of the game to those that may want to play the real thing, and gives those that will never play an understanding of the game should they become spectators', another youth leader observed. 'It also provides leverage for coaches and kids with their worrisome parents to let them play outside of the classroom: if it's been vetted by the schools, it must be ok'.
Sports Authority has teamed with Boulder to provide rugby balls to schools, as a means of driving more foot traffic into its retail stores. The partnership can be seen as market validation of the role schools play in accelerating entry into the sporting mainstream.