Written by: Chris Perrotte     

"Building Community through Rugby and Rugby through Community." 

Since the inception of the Toronto Inner City Rugby Foundation, this organization has lived by that motto, providing opportunities for many young men and women throughout the communities of Toronto.

“TIRF has provided me with the opportunity to share my love for the game with children and youth who might not otherwise get a chance to be involved in organized sport", says 19 year old Thomas.

“I know, from personal experience, the immense value that comes with participation in sport generally, and rugby specifically. It is incredibly rewarding to work with an organization that seeks to harness this power and use it as a tool for social good.”

Thomas is just one of many young people who has a positive testimony to share about this organization. And like the many other youth who are involved in the organization's programs, Thomas was given an opportunity to grow and be successful in life, as well as be encouraged to seek their full potential.

"Building Community through Rugby and Rugby through Community."

Their motto isn’t only an expression on how and why the Toronto Inner City Rugby Foundation (also known as TIRF) works, but according to their Executive Director Ige Egal, it is the essence of their mission.

“TIRF emerged in the context of increasingly inaccessible community sport. Many youth in our program previously had no access to quality sport in their communities. This was an opportunity for both TIRF and rugby,” says Egal.

“Using camaraderie as a cornerstone, we first provided a community for children and youth who have a passion for rugby but would otherwise not have the opportunity to participate due to various barriers,” continues Egal. “We did this by engaging partners to remove barriers and create opportunities.”

“In doing so, we created a vehicle to give back that which reignited a passion in those who experienced the game first hand. They became our champions and allowed us to mobilize the rugby community to help build TIRF and shape the next generation of rugby in Toronto.”

Paul Myers, the Rugby Development Coordinator for TIRF, shares his most rewarding aspect for working with this organization.

“The most rewarding part of my involvement with TIRF has been being able to use the game I love as a means for community-building and positively impacting kids,” says Myers.

The Toronto Inner City Rugby Foundation was formed in 2011 by Alan Broadbent, Scott Bryan, and Bill Di Nardo. Prior to creating TIRF, all three men had extensive rugby experience, being involved in the sport both on and off the field. Broadbent, a huge rugby supporter, has attended many Rugby World Cup tournaments, but he also  played for the Vancouver for Prince of Wales High School as well as the University of British Columbia in the 1960’s.

Scott Bryan had the opportunity to represent Canada as a player on multiple occasions, including the 1999 Rugby World Cup which was hosted by Wales.

Bill Di Nardo, who played the game at the varsity level, shares his passion for the game as a coach. He imparts his wisdom of the game by coaching for Newtonbrook Secondary School and also for the Toronto Saracens Rugby Club, where he is also an active member.

For Di Nardo, the idea to bring about TIRF came after he saw his son’s high school rugby team. He saw in them an untapped potential and decided something needed to be done to bring out the best in their team. By creating a pilot project and developing a partnership with the both the Toronto Saracens Rugby Club and Newtonbrook Secondary School, Di-Nardo, along with the newly formed TIRF, brought to his son’s school an academy-style coaching program.

The program they developed ran during the winter and concurrent to the school season. As a result of his initiative, Newtonbrook achieved success on the rugby pitch. Also thanks to the implemented system, Toronto Saracens, his home team, registered 16 new players.

TIRF continued to build on that momentum. In 2012, they partnered with nine more high schools and five local rugby clubs, including Toronto Saracens, Toronto Scottish, Toronto Dragons, Balmy Beach, and the Toronto Buccaneers. The partnerships brought about great results that year; a fantastic 111 junior rugby players registered.

Today, TIRF continues their partnerships with local schools across Toronto in both the Public and Private School Boards. They are also partners with different organizations such as Toronto Community Housing, the City of Toronto: Parks, Forestry, and Recreation, and the East Scarborough Boys & Girls Club.

“We partnered up with TIRF who come and have sessions with our local youth. Coaches come out and they do little clinics with the kids,” says Brianth Pokeerathan, one of the lead staff at the East Scarborough Boys & Girls Club, on Galloway Road.

Every Monday this past July, TIRF ran their rugby program for two hours from 10-12 noon. The program ran from July 10th to July 31st, teaching approximately 35 young boys and girls from 6-12 each week. Following their program, Pokeerathan continued run the rugby program as he was also trained by TIRF.

“We had a clinic down here [East Scarborough Boys & Girls Club] where Paul [Myers] came out and he trained some of our staff. I was one of the staff that got trained," says Pokeeranthan. "So I ran some of the activities that are in the book. They have their fundamental books [as reference], so we did some of those games.”

Once the program ended, the kids were invited to a Rugby Tournament that took place the second week of August at Birchmount Stadium in Scarborough.

“It’s a festival where we were invited to for the past three years. It’s a fun tournament day where they go down there and play some games," says Pokeeranthan. “It’s not a tournament [so to speak], it’s more about learning the sport. They also give out stuff to the kids. There is a bunch of stuff they hand out at the [Scarborough Summer Festival] fun day. They also provide pizza for the kids afterwards.”

It was Paul Myers who laid the groundwork for training the staff at East Scarborough Boys & Girls Club. Having played the game himself for over 20 years, Myers was first introduced to TIRF in 2012 after witnessing this diverse group of people in green shirts running around Fletchers Field. That was when he became hooked.

“What struck me about the group was how much they reflected the diversity of Toronto in the team. My curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to know more about the group and what they were about,” says Myers. ”At that time, TIRF was a small team of two. I ended up having conversation with Bill Di Nardo, TIRF’s co-founder and first executive director, and Ige Egal, TIRF’s current executive director.”

“I started volunteering for a season before joining the team as the technical director, and later became TIRF’s Rugby Development Coordinator, in early 2014”

As a member of TIRF, Myers sees the value in coaches and volunteers becoming role models for these young boys and girls. These are individuals who give their time to help educate these kids on the sport of rugby and offer a listening ear as well.

“It’s important for children and youth to aspire to become something more than they see around them,” says Myers. “To have role models that look like them, who also strongly emulate the core value we espouse on paper. TIRF’s network of caring and compassionate volunteers, summer youth staff and coaches; all provide children with an opportunity to dream.”

One could say a dream a child may have while participating in this great sport of rugby is to one day don our Canadian National Team's jersey and represent our country. With the recent success of both our men and women's 15s and 7s teams, it could certainly boost the interest toward the game among young people. Myers agrees, to a point:

“High performing teams certainly play a part, but the majority of the success we experience is in having good people who are character-driven role models, to inspire future players’” explains Myers.

”The inclusion of TIRF players within the national men’s sevens program plays a role in inspiring our participants, along with TIRF actively hiring U20 men’s and women’s players to help facilitate our summer experiential programs.”

"Building Community through Rugby and Rugby through Community."

Kam, who is 17 years old, offers high praises to her team: “I’ve build solid friendships with other players, staff, and coaches across Toronto.”

The ripple effect of the programs that the Toronto Inner City Rugby Foundation provides has swelled since their origin. They continue to partner with local rugby clubs, as well as add clubs to their supporter list, such as Toronto City Rugby Club, Etobicoke Rugby, Toronto Nomads, and the Yeomen Lions (an all-women’s club). Their achievements reach far beyond the pitch.

This year, TIRF has invested heavily in growing its core team to help grow the game,” explains Myers. ”From May to August, TIRF has delivered the Rookie Rugby curriculum to 26,288 children. Also, from May to August, in 103 schools and 100 camps, TIRF has worked with 190 children in 12 free-house leagues across the city. TIRF has also registered 246 high-school players.

When it comes to continuing education, the Toronto Inner City Rugby Foundation has given a hand-up by awarding scholarships to outstanding athletes. So far, 10 such athletes have been awarded a total of $52,500 in scholarships.

"Building Community through Rugby and Rugby through Community."

“Through TIRF, I’ve had access to academic scholarships and summer employment,” shares 20 year old John.

Through Canada Summer Jobs, TIRF employed 53 young individuals this summer, and offered a small number of teachers training opportunities in Physical & Health Education. They also supported six youth with entry level trade jobs.

Myer explains: “TIRF is not only growing the sport, we are growing the LTAD (Long-Term Athletic Development) community which includes current and future athletes, coaches, volunteers, spectators, and enthusiasts.”

Ige Egal reiterates what TIRF does for the young people they come in contact with:

“As a sport-for-development organization, TIRF is interested in the positive development of youth and communities long-term,” explains Egal. “As such, we’re dedicated to providing growth opportunities to our participants both on and off the field.

“This includes fostering volunteerism, connecting young people to meaningful employment, providing academic scholarships and leadership development, and collaborating with public, private, and non-profit sectors to advocate for accessible sport and help build community rugby and sport infrastructure.”

The Toronto Inner City Rugby Foundation strongly feels that by including more people and communities in rugby, and also by bringing more resources to our sport, it only strengthens rugby as a whole in Toronto, and beyond.

"Building Community through Rugby and Rugby through Community."

INTEGRITY, PASSION, SOLIDARITY, DISCIPLINE AND RESPECT: These five words epitomize the values of World Rugby that were established in 2009. Since the beginning of its formation, TIRF has ensured that all of their programs and services incorporate these values.

“These values not only make up what it means to be an exceptional athlete, it’s these values that make exceptional people,” says Myers. “They are values to play by and values to live by.”

What's next for the Toronto Inner City Rugby Foundation?

TIRF will be hosting their 4th Annual Fall 7’s Tournament at Sunnybrook Park on September 23rd and 24th, 2017. This tournament is part of Rugby Ontario’s "Mag Seven’s" series. Recognized as the premier junior Seven’s rugby competition in Toronto, TIRF is very excited to be presenting eight different divisions at this year’s tournament: U18 Men’s Elite, U18 Women’s Elite, U18 Men’s Open, U18 Women’s Open, U16 Boys’, U16 Girls, U14 Boys, and U14 Girls. For more information please visit: www.TIRFrugby.ca/Fall7s.

You can also find information on the TIRF Corporate 7’s event including a Flag Tournament and Après Rugby Cocktail Reception. This will be their inaugural fundraising event. The Cherry Beach Sports Fields will be host to this co-ed non-contact rugby 7’s tournament, open for corporate teams consisting of 12 players per squad. After a fun, spirited time on the pitch, players and guests are invited to a post-tournament reception where they can partake in the silent auction and be part of award presentations, while enjoying locally sourced hors d’oeuvres and craft beer. For more information you can visit: www.Corporate7s.com.

"Building Community through Rugby and Rugby through Community."

“TIRF has helped my child develop not only as a player, but also as a person.” These words are from a parent who shares the benefits that TIRF has had on their child.

“Our goal is to develop caring, compassionate, and competent rugby and community champions who will not only contribute to the development of their communities, but to a vibrant rugby landscape,” says Egal.

“As an individual grows and develops through rugby, so do their communities.”

The Toronto Inner City Rugby Foundation will continue to work in partnership with our local clubs to help grow this amazing sport. For players, parents, teachers,  and physical & health education administrators, along with clubs and governing bodies, TIRF will be the community's resource for everything rugby.

“Everyone is a partner. We all play a role in maintaining and nurturing the sports ecosystem and creating a welcoming environment for new players,” Myers said. “Through establishing a pathway to performance, TIRF cultivates new players; and our partner clubs help reduce social isolation by creating opportunities to play and providing meaningful pro-social opportunities.”

“TIRF supports local clubs through capacity-building initiatives to create even more places for kids to pick up a ball, learn the sport, and play.”

"Building Community through Rugby and Rugby through Community."

We have seen countless examples of how this fabulous motto is shared and practiced by everyone who works at the Toronto Inner City Rugby Foundation. They have a love for the sport. Rugby is a sport that creates a diverse and family-like atmosphere both on and off the pitch. It's a sport that builds confidence and character and can be played by anyone no matter their body type. Rugby is for everyone.

“Sport is becoming more and more exclusive; rugby by nature is inclusive. There’s a spot for everyone on the field, so why not everyone in the city? That’s the idea that drives us in our work,” says Myers.

I invite you to visit www.tirfrugby.ca to see the programs they offer, to perhaps become a volunteer both on and off the pitch, or to even donate to their programs. I suggest you go ahead and see for yourself how the investment of your time through rugby can make a difference in the lives of young men or women.

By supporting TIRF, you will be helping this worthwhile initiative:

"Building Community through Rugby and Rugby through Community."

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