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(Posted 8 a.m., July 23)
Program gives special needs kids the chance to play rugby

By Mike Beasley
The Orleans Star

Two special needs players take part in the Trust Rugby International clinic held recently at St. Peter High School. PHOTO COURTESY OF SAMANTHA MACFARLANE/BOREALIS PHOTO STUDIO

There’s no stopping Lee Ann Napiorkowski when it comes to sharing her enthusiasm and passion for rugby. “Nappy” as she is fondly called around town is on a non-stop mission to introduce and promote her sport of choice which originated in England in the early 1800s.

During the school year she works as the inclusion coordinator at St. Peter High School on Charlemagne Blvd. Then each spring, she can be found on the pitch behind the school coaching the senior boy’s rugby team.

Napiorkowski was back on familiar ground recently as the host of a Trust Rugby International event. She worked together with Jamie Armstrong to bring the founder of the Scottish-based charity to Ottawa and lead a group of kids with mixed abilities through a one-hour coaching clinic.

“I’ve been trying to establish a program coordinating and coaching unified or mixed rugby with the help of the sport’s national and provincial governing bodies for a while,” said Napiorkowski. “Bringing Jamie to Ottawa to lead a clinic is a great way to promote our rugby program and help us with our efforts to include special needs athletes.”

Founded in 2010, Trust Rugby International’s goal is to bring individuals and communities together through rugby. The organization uses the non-contact version of the sport to involve people with learning disabilities, which will enable all players to participate to their full potential.

“We (TRI) have a partnership with World Rugby which is called the ‘Spirit of Rugby’,” Campbell explained through a thick Scottish accent. “Our goal is to help other countries take on what we call 'unified rugby', or in Canada is named “mixed ability”. We encourage disabled and non-disabled athletes playing together.”

The athletes in Napiorkowski’s group range from 10 to 50 years of age. Her goal is to get her gang together once a month with gradual growth leading to games against similar teams from the area.

One of the athletes in ths group is Jacob Demers-Barrett who sported a huge smile during the entire 60 minute session. Even an unexpected tumble to the ground didn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

“Rugby is a lot of fun, I really enjoy it,” Demers-Barrett said while his team enjoyed a brief time-out. “I like to run around and play with my teammates. I’ve made lots of friends.”

As an example of his love for the sport, Demers-Barrett was selected to be Canada’s flagbearer during an inter-national ruby contest at Twin Elm Rugby Park in mid-June featuring the national men’s team against Russia.

Jacob’s mom, Chantal Demers, can’t say enough about the special needs program and Napiorkowski’s continued efforts to have her son involved in sports.

“I am very grateful to Lee Ann, this is an amazing program,” said Demers. “This is a very meaningful activity that my son looks forward to. It has helped his physical and social skills. Lee Anne is doing a wonderful job.”

For more information about Trust Rugby International visit their website at www.trustrugby.org.

Kids and coaches gather together for a group photo following the Trust Rugby International clinic for special needs kids held at St. Peter High School on July 13. PHOTO COURTESY OF SAMANTHA MACFARLANE/BOREALIS PHOTO STUDIO

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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