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Ace Foundation's journey, from underdogs to the top 12 Rugby teams in India

Author: Maxon Sequeira
Copyrights: Rugby India

Ace Foundation's journey, from underdogs to the top 12 Rugby teams in India

ACE Foundation strives to work for the betterment of youth. It focuses on grassroots development of rugby, while managing to progress from being a developing side to a top level team playing Rugby at the national level in India. It has now set itself to inspire more youth to take up rugby and be able to develop as confident individuals through the sport.

Objective of ACE Foundation

ACE Foundation (ACE), was founded to empower underprivileged youth through sport. Instilling a strong sense of self-confidence in them is a core aim of ACE. Elevating young players to lead communities as community rugby coaches was one scheme to develop self-confidence in these youngsters. But this would restrict the work of ACE Foundation to only the young coaches, who now train many more youth from their communities with unmatched confidence.

Allowing youngsters to grow and develop through the forge of competition

Competition encourages the meekest, to rise to the occasion. ACE used competition in sport to make youth realise their true potential, prove their mettle, disprove the nonbelievers and assure the faith in those that stood by them come what may. The youth who took up rugby as a means to break away from their lack of privileges now have the opportunity to stand up for themselves on the rugby pitch and be recognised for their talent and merit.

Introducing players to competitive rugby slowly but steadily

From its inception, ACE has reached out to almost 7,500 youth, and kept about 700 actively playing rugby. ACE trained these players through its community rugby programme making slow but steady progress to ensure players were well trained and not discouraged when they faced a loss.

ACE introduced its young and talented players to competition in rugby through a series of local rugby sevens tournaments in 2012 to familiarise them with full contact rugby. In 2013 and 2014 a few players got their opportunity to play top level 15-a-side rugby for other clubs from Division One and Division Two, allowing them to gain much needed playing experience.

Over the course of the next few years ACE athletes emerged as champions at the state level and the national level, some even representing India at the under-17, under-18 and also the Youth Olympic qualifier games.

ACE Foundation: The team

The team took shape with players selected from the ACE community rugby programmes spread throughout India from the slums of Mumbai, the rural district of Satara, the fishing village community of Bhayender, Uttan as well as Naxalite affected areas of Chhattisgarh along with a few foreign supporters from the UK and France. These players have played as a team bound by the spirit of ACE despite their differences in race, ethnicity, origin, religion, caste, status, socio-economic background, education, cultural differences and even physical stature. This is proof that ACE has been instrumental in promoting unity and inclusion.

Competing at the Second Division Nationals

In 2016, around its sixth anniversary ACE started playing at the national level. It featured itself in the Callaghan Cup, Second Division All India, the penultimate rugby competition in India. ACE began its journey in the vibrant and culturally exuberant “Pink City” of Jaipur in Rajasthan in November 2016. In its first year, ACE played valiantly as a cohesive unit, going down to the Delhi Rebels in the opening round of the competition, then beating Bihar and finally edging Jammu and Kashmir in a close fought encounter for a fifth place finish of the competition.

ACE resumed its Callaghan Cup, Division Two campaign in 2017 in Jaipur yet again. ACE went down to Haryana Bulls in the first round but overcame Chhattisgarh later. ACE beat Chandigarh in the third round and finally concluded its campaign beating competition rivals, Jammu and Kashmir for seventh position.

ACE qualifies for Division One

Its quest for the Callaghan Cup Division Two, brought the determined ACE side to Ludhiana, Punjab in the land of pure ghee, parathas, and lassi. They began their campaign with a win against the fierce Haryana Warriors. They overcame the Tiger Hurricanes from Delhi on its way to the semi-finals. ACE went down to a well experienced Delhi Lions side in the semi-final, leaving it with one final opportunity to qualify for the highly coveted spot at the 86th All India & South Asia – National Division One Rugby Tournament, 2019 by winning against the Young Rebels from Delhi in their third place qualifier. After a see-saw battle, ACE stole victory from the Young Rebels in the dying minutes of the game, taking third place, securing its spot in Division One.

ACE is now, one of the top twelve rugby union sides in India. With its Division One campaign ACE hopes to inspire more youth to take up rugby, step out of their shells and embrace the endless possibilities of a better life through the power of sport.