The Hornets Rugby team are pretty special and most probably unlike any other rugby team. They are an accessible touch rugby team, with team members of all genders, ages ranging from 12 – 60+ and a variety of players with additional needs.
In many spaces, these players would face several barriers to entering and participating in the sport, but the Hornets have not just removed these barriers, but blown them out of the stratosphere and it has been life changing for the players and their families!
They epitomise the ethos and ideals of Think Active’s Moving Stories campaign, and it was an honour to meet with many of the players and parents to hear how impactful the Hornets have been for them. The Hornets also received a grant from Think Active earlier in 2023, to help purchase some new training equipment, which can be seen in the photos here.
The team’s inception came about in 2017 as part of an initiative with Wasps Rugby and Project Rugby. Emma Smith is one of the founding members and a driving force for the team’s set up. Her son had played rugby as a child and then gone on to play senior rugby in New Zealand.
Back in 2017, Project Rugby was very interested in accessibility in Rugby and getting more players with a disability into playing rugby. That was where the idea and vision for a mixed-ability team format at Old Leam’s came about.
“The way this team has developed over the years and found a home here at Old Leamingtonians has just been more than we’d ever hoped for. We’re fully part of the fabric of the wider club and have won awards like ‘Old Leamingtonians Team of The Year’ previously too. Everyone is so supportive, from players across the club and coaches to the parents and OL’s Committee.”
The Hornets team are able to play against other mixed ability teams in the region, but there aren’t many of them yet, and while playing matches is nice – the real gold dust of this group is the weekly training sessions, with experienced coaches at the helm, who have played for Old Leamingtonians:
“Coaching the Hornets has been the greatest achievement and joy of all my Rugby career.” Explained head coach Kelvin, whose family member Crimson, is also one of the players in the team.
“These players inspire me so much with what they achieve and overcome every week. We do the same drills and training as the other ranks of teams and we still expect a lot of them, they never disappoint and watching their development is a real honour.”
There are so many individually inspiring stories across this merry band of Rugby playing comrades, from Harry, a year 11 student at Kenilworth school who has been a volunteer with the team for 2 years. He joined as part of his Duke of Edinburgh award but enjoyed it so much that he keeps on helping out.
There are also siblings Paige and Jamie, who play in the team together. Jamie’s mum explained that he would never leave her side or participate fully in any other activity, but as soon as he arrived at the Hornets he settled, fitted in and never looked back. Sister Paige joined the Hornets during Covid, when players needed to be accompanied to training, but she never left. She got the Rugby bug pretty bad and has started training with the Girls team and now hopes to join the University team when she starts this autumn.
We also met Liam’s mum, who explained that due to Liam’s autism and other difficulties he had never managed to engage in or enjoy sport before they found the Hornets. But since joining the team 4 years ago, he rarely misses a session, loves every minute and it has helped Liam to lose weight, improve his health dramatically and reduced his BMI.
We couldn’t end this incredible Moving Stories feature either, without mentioning the Hornet’s infamous team captain – Henry, who is so passionate about the game and the team that it truly is infectious. While we joined the team training Henry proudly demonstrated the Haka.
The overriding feeling, and sentiment shared and expressed by all the players, coaches, support team and parents was one of community, support, empathy and it is simply brilliant.
The Hornets train on a Thursday evening from 6-7pm and are always happy to welcome new players, regardless of age, experience or ability. If people are interested in finding out more they can start by getting in touch with Emma Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org
“The Hornets is just completely open for anyone to have a go. It is touch rugby – no contact. The ethos is that everyone is equal and able to fully engage in the game. If someone is learning about the game, then adaptations are made. Some of our players are experienced rugby players and they mentor and support junior members or those learning from scratch. We’ve got parents and children playing and siblings playing together” Emma explains further.
“The social side to the Hornets is also incredibly important, we have groups of parents who don’t join in the training but spend the hour chatting and supporting one another, we also regularly have nights out and celebration events etc.”
Jordan Young from Think Active, has been involved with the Hornets for many years, right back to its inception, when he was working for Wasps Rugby and he has seen the progress that individuals have made through the nurturing nature of this team:
“The Hornets are really something quite special and the way they have created a safe and inclusive environment for anyone to be able to enjoy Rugby in this way, while developing fitness levels at their own pace and capacity is so good to see. The power of rugby and the power of community combined, I really hope that we see more teams like this developing across the region in the future.”