By Official HRFC
2 days ago
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It would be an understatement to say that 2020 was a difficult year clouded in uncertainty and challenges for all of us.

And unfortunately that has carried over into the early part of 2021.

As we continue to navigate our way through this pandemic it appears that there is finally light at the end of the tunnel with the roll out of the vaccination programme.

And although rugby is yet to return fully, or for a prolonged period at least, there is plenty of cause for optimism at Mayfield Park which points towards a bright future for the club.

Not least because of a burgeoning Mini & Junior set up that has grown beyond all expectation and gone from strength to strength over recent seasons.

The seeds for this ambitious project were planted around a decade ago.

And there is no person better placed to explain how this process began than Mini & Junior Chairman Stewart Hind - himself a product of junior rugby at the club.

"About 9 or 10 years ago we identified that for our senior rugby teams, and the club in general, to be sustainable going forward we really needed to develop our junior section and accommodate more age groups.

I think at that time we only had two or three junior teams - a colts team and a couple of minis teams - so there was quite a gap between them.

Our long term goal was for us to field a team at every age group. But back then it was an incredibly ambitious vision for the club given the low base we were starting from.

Hartlepool is only a small town but there was, and still is, a high density of rugby clubs and a lot of competition from other sports. So we knew it would be quite the challenge and certainly wouldn't happen overnight.

We set about the long term process of expanding our junior section one team at a time by adding a team a season. It would take a lot of determination, persistence and patience.

But it is testament to the hard work of our coaches, volunteers and the vision of a forward thinking committee that we now boast 12 age groups, and counting, across the board and can offer rugby to all ages from as young as 4 years old.

Recruitment is ongoing and we have developed close links with local primary and secondary schools. As with most campaigns though word of mouth is key and encouragement or positive testimonials from players and their parents can be the main factor in attracting new players.

Due to fundraising initiatives we are in the fortunate position of not having to charge our young players to play rugby here and that is something that we take great pride in.

It is our belief that kids should just be able to turn up with a pair of boots and take part.

Welcoming more and more players and their families has helped us to foster a strong sense of community at Mayfield Park and Sunday mornings are a hive of activity. There is a real buzz around the ground.

It is amazing to see so many young people with smiles on their faces enjoying their rugby. That is what it is really all about.

Like all other grassroots clubs we have faced an enormous challenge to retain and engage our young players during this pandemic with no fixtures being played. But our coaches have done a fantastic job on that front and deserve enormous credit.

And before this current lockdown we were delighted to welcome many more new players to the club.

Hopefully we can get everyone back to Mayfield Park in the coming weeks and months and pick up where we left off. That will be another challenge in itself but we feel that we've got solid foundations in place to meet it."

The positive impact of all of this on senior rugby has been evident.

In terms of numbers, last season 55.6% of the 45 players that represented the 1st XV played their Mini & Junior rugby here at Mayfield Park.

44.4% of those players have made the transition to senior rugby within the last 9 years and 26.7% within the last 3 years.

Overall, 55.3% of the 85 players that represented the senior squad (1st XV & A team) as a whole last season played their Mini & Junior rugby at the club.

With 45.9% making the transition to senior rugby within the last 9 years and 27.1% within the last 3 years.

The 2019/20 season saw no less than 12 of our players achieve representative honours with Durham County across four age groups.

This is an all time high for the club in one season and was capped off by Shane Ivey proudly captaining the Durham County Under 20 team against Yorkshire last March.

17 year old Liam Cooper has followed in Ivey's footsteps to become the second player from our club in recent times selected to represent the Newcastle Falcons at Academy or age grade level.

And the recent formation of our own 'Academy' for 16-18 year olds aims to maximise the potential of our players on and off the field and provide a dedicated pathway to senior rugby.

We hope that this will help us to retain even more of our players and see them continue to engage with the club into their 20s and beyond.

It is particularly pleasing to see so many players that have come through the ranks at the club now passing on their knowledge and coaching the next generation. The retention of players in coaching and volunteer roles is key to the sustainability and success of any grassroots sports organisation.

Although our thriving Mini & Junior rugby programme may have begun to bare fruit, this article or particular point in time does not mark the end of the journey but rather the continuation.

Every season our objectives are the same - to continue to engage with and develop our players, welcome new players of all ages and evolve the environment for rugby at Mayfield Park.

And of course, to have fun and put smiles on the faces of all our young people.

Do you know a young person that would like to play rugby? Get in touch! We'd love to hear from you -

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