Amos is a champion at bull rush.
It’s one of the training games he and his teammates play with their coaches as part of the MRP – a Modified Rugby Program for young people with autism and other learning and perceptual disabilities.
“What we want to do is support social inclusion through sport by ensuring that young people with cognitive disabilities get to play mainstream sport and learn that they are part of the rugby community just like everyone else,” says Megan Elliott, Chair and Co-Founder of the Brisbane-based GingerCloud Foundation which runs the program.
For Amos’ mum, Rebekah Blaikie, her son has gained so much more than just a love of the game.
“I was looking for something for Amos to be a part of, where he could find a sense of identity and be part of a community that was inclusive, and it's just been the most wonderful program.”
It helps that Amos is rugby mad, of course, but with the help of the program’s mentors he’s also improved his communication skills and developed friendships with his peers, Rebekah says.
Amos is one of the program’s veterans, playing for over 7 years with the MRP. He plays in a more advanced “Sevens” team, alongside a new trial program where independence and competition are at the forefront.
As applause and cheers echo across the field, the sense of community created by the program is profound. Everyone is welcome, and everyone can succeed.
“The kids are just gorgeous,” says Bridget, a coach and former PlayerMentor . “MRP enables them to play with peers at the same level as them, and make friends with those who might have some similar experiences to them in life.”
PlayerMentors play a vital role in the program’s success, guiding them on the field and often sharing a burger and a chat with them after training.
The mentors are trained through an online disability inclusion program, teaching them leadership skills, de-escalation techniques and coaching methods to ensure the best experience for each player.
St.George Foundation is a long-time supporter of GingerCloud, as well as backing the MRP.
“It's the sort of organisation that just brings a smile to my face, seeing kids that wouldn't otherwise normally play rugby, get out there and give it a go,” says Ross Miller, Westpac’s chief customer engagement officer, and governor of St.George Foundation.
Elliott says the parents get just as much joy out of the experience as the kids.
“For parents, it’s that opportunity to stand on the sidelines and cheer your child on, just like every other parent on a Saturday morning in community sport.”
Blaikie could not agree more: “Every week is a new favourite memory,” she says.
“You've never seen your son do anything amazing, and then he's running down the field and scoring a try and feeling really proud,” Blaikie says, as she turns to wipe away a tear.
For more information, head to the GingerCloud Foundation website or social media channels.