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In one of the most socio-economically depressed neighborhoods in New York City, an crew of middle schoolers is doing damage in what was previously a historically very white, very British sport – rugby.

As outlined in a recent profile by The New York Times, at Intermediate School 392, also known as the School for the Gifted and Talented, Romanian coach Ovidiu Grozav came up with the idea after going to a conference also attended by the non-profit Play Rugby USA several years ago.

Since then, his girls team has won the all-girls cup in their first year and again last year, while the boys have continued to compete for the cup on their own (at this age, there is no tackling allowed in what is traditionally a very physical sport.) The teams are almost all black.

The Times reports:

It’s a scene that would have been hard to imagine 10 years ago: nearly 900 city schoolchildren of varied ethnicities from every borough playing a sport that is associated mostly with territories of the British Empire and is named for the elite British school where it is thought to have begun.

But Mark Griffin, founder and chief executive of Play Rugby USA, organizer of the Rugby Cup and school programs throughout New York City, considers flag rugby, with its nonstop action, fluid play and shared responsibility, a natural fit for urban youth. “Everyone’s a quarterback,” Mr. Griffin said. Rugby is also a fledgling pathway to college, with more than 800 schools offering scholarships.

Perhaps just as surprising as rugby’s growth in the city is that I.S. 392, an inspiring middle school in a notoriously poor and rough neighborhood, has emerged as a perennial rugby powerhouse under the guidance of its unlikely coach.

Read more at The New York Times

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