On Monday afternoon my day job of being a PE teacher at Graham School linked arms with my passion for rugby league and set off on a journey to Leeds, in a minibus packed with15 very excited young men.
Nick Settle, Leeds Rhinos’ North Yorkshire Development Manager had very kindly invited the school to attend ‘A Day to Remember’ with the reigning Super League champions, for a day which included a training session with some of the Rhinos’ junior coaching team at their Kirkstall-based Rugby Academy.
This was followed by a tour of the facility itself, and culminated in the pupils’ attendance at Headingley Carnegie Stadium for the Rhinos’ Super League fixture against St Helens.
While at the Rugby Academy some of the boys were lucky enough to bump into one or two of the current Rhinos’ first-team players who weren’t involved in the match-day squad due to injury and who were working on individual training regimes.
The likes of Paul McShane, Ben Jones-Bishop and Jamie Peacock MBE, despite being mid-training session, were genuinely receptive of the boys and were happy to chat to them for a few moments between sets - this one small snapshot perhaps summing up the very best of rugby league, as accessible professional sportsmen inspired and engaged with a future generation without conceit or arrogance.
The boys were made to feel very welcome by the club, and in particular Nick Settle, who ensured that they were even mentioned over the PA system at Headingley Carnegie before kick-off.
Despite not returning back to school until midnight and the resultant bleary eyes on Tuesday (mine included) the day was a huge success, with all of the boys having thoroughly enjoyed their experience of ‘A Day to Remember’.
This is a rugby league column so I’ll refrain from getting too political but for the boys that attended it was a day at school that wasn’t dependant on rote memorisation or linear learning, and not a single exam question was answered - Michael Gove would surely have disapproved.
However, the day was one which engaged the pupils from start to finish, and one which developed their confidence and their practical, functional and social skills, while giving them a genuinely thrilling and valuable life experience.
I know first-hand that rugby league can educate and develop young people, not just through playing but through the whole experience of the sport itself, spectating, coaching, and officiating included.
Education comes in many different forms, if only someone could convince Gove of that.