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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
Memphis Inner City Rugby (MICR) was founded in 2012 to expand academic and athletic opportunities in Memphis' low-income communities. Since then, the program's success has been proved by student-athletes who are making the grade at college level.
Started at Kingsbury High, the program has expanded to Power Center Academy High and Middle schools, Soulsville High and Middle schools, Freedom Preparatory Academy, Ridgeway Middle, Du Bois Academy of Arts & Technology, Belle Forest Community School and Believe Memphis Academy. The schools have nine teams between them, two of which are all-girl teams.
And all the teams have flourished - despite the lack of a home field. They have played on fields at Christian Brothers High, Farmington Elementary, Tobey Park and the USA Stadium Complex in Millington.
That's about to change.
"In collaboration with Shelby County Schools, Advance Memphis and the City of Memphis, MICR is focused on making another positive impact for student-athletes right in the heart of Memphis," said Michael Deutsch, board chairman of MICR. "We're repurposing an area at a closed school (Vance Middle School) that has a lot of history and deserves to be cleaned up and used by Memphis youth. I believe this field may be the first rugby field in the country to be developed through such a unique partnership."
The collaborative effort started when two unlikely nonprofit partners, Memphis Inner City Rugby and Advance Memphis, discussed how to find a home field for the rugby players.
"This inner-city rugby field represents what is possible when the talent in our city government, public schools and nonprofits focus on a common goal - providing positive inner-city environments," Deutsch said. "We have dreamed of the day when our kids could finally play in the community in which many of them live."
Deutsch said he called his friend Steve Nash, executive director of Advance Memphis, who suggested the Vance Middle School location.
"He said, 'Michael, you have to take a look at Vance Middle School - it would be perfect,' " Deutsch said. "And anyone who knows Steve knows he immediately followed up his suggestion with another one, 'And I have the right guy that will cut the athletic field for you.' That guy was Advance Memphis graduate Donald Jenkins, whom we have hired to cut the field and landscape the surrounding area."
Jonathan Adam, business development coordinator for Advance Memphis, said the group got involved with the project "because it reflects our mission of building transformational relationships and creating economic opportunities for our friends and neighbors in the 38126 and 38106 ZIP codes."
"We believe that this partnership is a sustainable effort that will contribute to the well-being of those in the South Memphis community," Adam said.
Shane Young, MICR's co-founder/executive director, said MICR is working with Paul Young, director of Housing and Community Development for Memphis, to pursue a grant to support the project. The group also worked with Michelle Stewart, director of Facilities Planning & Property Management of Shelby County Schools, to secure a permit to revitalize the football field at Vance Middle and play rugby matches there starting this fall.
The first full season will be in the spring, Shane Young said. The goal is to eventually attract teams from across the Mid-South.
"This is an important initiative for the city given that there is $250 million being invested in the South City Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which is in close proximity (a block away) from where this field is located," Paul Young said. "This initiative is not only about improving housing, but also about making neighborhoods better. This reuse project for the field is a perfect example, bringing more vibrancy to the overall community. We are excited about supporting this project, as well as being part of the even broader economic development opportunity. It's something we want to see happen across the city."
On Dec. 8, MICR will host a community day event designed to expose the public to the new field and rally additional support. There will be a dedication ceremony for the field, as well as interactive games for kids, and drills and a match for the teams.
Shane Young said fencing, lights and bleachers are still needed.
"We remain a grassroots, volunteer-driven organization, and our commitment to expanding the landscape of opportunities available to our city's under-served youth continues to grow," he said. "The MICR program was started by teachers, is driven by coaches, and exists to leverage the power of rugby for social change."
For more information visit https://memphisinnercityrugby.org.
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