You are here

Promoting grassroots rugby through living mascots one national level tour at a time

Author: Maxon Sequeira
Copyrights: ACE Foundation

Promoting grassroots rugby through living mascots one national level tour at a time

ACE Foundation, a youth-focused rugby programme promotes engagement by making dedicated youth participants as mascots and ambassadors for their senior team.

ACE Foundation has always focused on grassroots development in rugby by paying close attention to promoting youth as ambassadors of both its team and the sport of rugby. ACE adopted the idea of having a living mascot at competitions to incentivise performance and promote active, enthusiastic participation among youth through its community rugby programme.

Most international and local fixtures commence by involving young children as a gesture of goodwill. These children may lead the athletes, carry match balls or be entrusted to be flag bearers walking onto the field before kick-off. World Rugby encourages youth and young children to participate in the game of rugby despite not being directly involved in the competition by being ball boys or ball girls for the duration of competitions.

Many most teams may also choose a stuffed toy or a figurine, perhaps of their national animal, as their mascot for every competition.

ACE Foundation integrated both these concepts by roping in youth from its community rugby programme to be the team’s living mascots. These chosen youth would represent ACE throughout the duration of the competition, be able to experience what it is like to watch every moment live and be at the crux of it. These youth are selected to be the heart of the team at every competition ACE’s senior team participates in. They would be the binding element that each player vows to play for, for the duration of the tournament.

A steady rise in the number of regular participants in ACE’s community rugby programme has seen close to 750 youth involved throughout all of ACE’s community teams. To promote the interest of these kids, ACE organises and conducts regular community touch rugby competitions. It also introduces rugby as a contact sport to those youth who show enthusiasm towards full contact rugby.

The ACE community coaches nominate a few probable mascots based on their regularity, punctuality, involvement and enthusiasm during training and even performance during the timely community tournaments. These youth are further reviewed considering their on-field temperament, off-field demeanour, academic performance and involvement. The top one or two youth get the opportunity to travel with the ACE team as their living mascots.

The tradition of ACE’s living mascot began when it selected 13 year young Sohail Shah from its Cheeta Camp, Mankhurd community from Mumbai to travel to Jaipur for its first ever national level appearance at the All India Division Two Callaghan Cup in November 2016. In 2017 a pair of 14 years young Baby Yadav and Sushil Verma from Dhagvi, Bhayender accompanied the team to Jaipur on ACE’s second appearance in the Callaghan Cup. Finally, 16 year old Karishma Das from Tilak Nagar travelled with the team to Ludhiana in 2018, where ACE qualified to play at the All India Division One, after just its third national level appearance.

This year, 12 year young Antriya Thomas from Bhayender and 14 year young Poonam Saroj from Tilak Nagar travelled with the team to Kolkata to ACE’s first ever appearance in the All India Division One Championship. 

Ever since their outings as ACE mascots, these youth have been extremely driven to continue playing rugby and improve themselves. They also now encourage their team-mates and others to push themselves during training, play and to live a better life through rugby.

In essence, a single tour outing sent out a ripple effect, inspired these youth to promote the sport among their peers and become true ambassadors of the sport and the team. Sohail continues to play rugby more seriously aspiring to inspire more youth by joining the senior team. Sushil aims to carve himself a niche, after taking up science in his first year of Junior College to establish his career but also devoting his time to promoting rugby despite feeling the need to be more academically inclined. Baby and Karishma have pledged to stand out as role models along with becoming community coaches and leading more youth, especially the girls to take up sport, to develop and grow along with ACE Foundation, through rugby.