On the afternoon of April 1, around 75 kids split up into three groups descended upon the pitch inside Infinity Park for the second day of Glendale Youth Rugby’s Spring After School program.

If it wasn’t the second practice of the program, you might’ve thought it was an April Fools joke after the year we’ve all been through. Thankfully it wasn’t, and the site of all of these kids running around with a rugby ball in their hand was a welcome one for Glendale Youth Rugby coordinator Jamie Burke.

“We’ve had great numbers and great interest,” Burke said of the Spring After School program.

The first week of the program was a sign of all of the hard work that Burke and her team have put in over the course of the last year. It isn’t the first youth rugby program that Burke has put on since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and that was a big help in getting the first program of 2021 off of the ground.

“The planning luckily wasn’t too hard because we already had the framework laid out from the fall,” Burke said of the planning involved for the spring program. “The biggest challenge was staying on top of the ever-changing regulations and policies. That was our biggest navigation point.”

Burke put on scaled-down versions of Glendale Youth Rugby’s standard programming in 2020. There was a Summer Flag program and a Fall After School program, but it operated differently than it did in years past. While the spring program registration is still capped and participants must wear masks, it will also include an introduction to contact while simultaneously teaching the kids their basic rugby skills.

“We had a big shift from the fall to the spring,” Burke said of the difference between the two camps. “In the fall, we weren’t able to have any contact. Everything had to be flag. It’s actually interesting, the shift from the fall. In the fall, masks were optional but we couldn’t do any contact. Now we are able to start reintroducing contact, but we have to have everyone in masks unless they are playing active games.”

Burke is hopeful that the Spring After School program is just the beginning of the return to normalcy for Glendale Youth Rugby to Infinity Park in 2021.

“We are anticipating now having our normal scheduled programs with COVID mitigation in place,” Burke said of the plans for the program for the year.

That means that the Spring After School program will transition into Try League, which will then transition into Summer Flag. Glendale Youth Rugby will get back to hosting their high school girls camp, which will be a day camp this year instead of an overnight camp. When the weather starts to cool off again, Burke and her team will transition into their Fall After School program and round off the outdoor programs with Fall Try League. Burke is also hopeful that they will be able to get back into local schools by that time as well.

The Spring After School program is just the beginning. The goal of the program is to teach the kids the basics skills of rugby so that they can build upon those skills as the year moves along.

“The big focus is on the introduction of these skills, with the hope that they are able to segue into Try League where those skills are actually being used in a more competitive setting,” Burke said.

Unlike in 2020, all of those goals are still in play and that is something that we can all be thankful for.

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