THE fortunes of Crusaders may have been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons but the community engagement our adopted rugby league team has inspired remains positive.
Last week, thanks to a partnership between the team, Celtic Warriors basketball team and Wrexham Council’s sports development department, the first wheelchair rugby league session was held at Glyndwr University.
It is the latest in a series of initiatives that have been introduced in the area since Crusaders first came to Wrexham in 2010.
The man in charge of implementing this outreach programme is community manager Matt Pritchard who joined in the wheelchair rugby training session, along with community coach Martin Roddy.
Both men are passionate ambassadors for their sport.
“This is fantastic because, until now, there has been no wheelchair rugby league in Wales,” Matt enthused, preparing to have a go himself.
Matt has already been involved in a number of other schemes in and around Wrexham.
“We’ve got a North Wales under 18 team put in place, Wrexham Bradley Raiders is already set up, street rugby is going on in four different areas of Wrexham – Caia Park, Brynteg, Gwersyllt and Plas Madoc – and it is really strong, more numbers taking part, the right ideas involved,” he explained.
But what if, in light of recent events off the pitch at The Racecourse, there is no longer Crusaders involvement?
“There’s always an opportunity to lose it,” Matt admitted. “If it’s down to us we won’t but that’s a matter for the people who run Crusaders and rugby league in Wales.
“As far as the development work goes it’s down to the people involved, we don’t need a badge. If you have people who are passionate about it then it will continue.”
One person who certainly is passionate is coach Martin, who travels to Wrexham from Cheltenham each week.
“I feel that getting the community involved is the most important thing,” he said.
“Rugby league started in 1895 because communities needed something different from the rugby sport that was being played then, something they could feel a part of.
“If you look at how the sport has developed since then, if you haven’t got community, you haven’t got rugby league and that is why the Rugby Football League put an emphasis on community development.
“It’s about being inclusive, giving everybody the chance to be involved and it’s not just about playing, it’s about coaches, referees, the volunteers who help out every week. Without them we wouldn’t have the amateur game.”
Another person at the inaugural wheelchair basketball meeting in Wrexham is Celtic Warriors star Mike Hayes, who first contacted Matt with the idea.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but we’ve never had the backing to get it off the ground,” Mike said. “With the 2013 rugby league world cup being staged in England and Wales, we have formed this partnership and, hopefully, they will provide the community coaching and we will provide the players.
“The great thing about it is that the basketball season lasts for six months of the year and rugby the other six months so, hopefully we might eventually be able to join a league.
“One thing I want to emphasise is that it is not just for wheelchair users, it could be ideal for somebody who, say, used to play rugby league or another sport but popped a knee or something and can’t run too far any more.”
l Anyone interested in taking part in wheelchair rugby league in Wrexham should get in touch with the council’s sports development department or Celtic Warriors via their website.