For Immediate Release
BOSTON, MA – The Free Jacks today announced, in collaboration with USA Rugby and in alignment with regional rugby entities – including New England Rugby Football Union, New England Rugby Referee Society, National College Rugby and youth governing bodies such as Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization–the launch of the official Free Jacks Academy. The Academy, with touch points throughout the six states of New England, is a comprehensive system to better identify, upskill, and develop rugby athletes in New England at the high school, college, and club levels, while providing additional participation opportunities at youth levels.
As an officially recognized USA Rugby National Development Program (NDP), the Free Jacks Academy is established to offer regular and ongoing development opportunities for players aged 12 to 25 and functions as a supplement to the regular club environment. The Free Jacks Academy provides high performance skill development in compliance with set benchmarks and key performance indicators for selection at the national level.
“Having reviewed what the Free Jacks are doing, it is clear that they have developed a high quality program with thorough infrastructure,” stated USA Rugby High-Performance Pathways Manager, Brendan Keane. “We are confident that the Free Jacks Academy will excel in its function of preparing athletes to advance through the pathways in New England and USA Rugby.”
The Free Jacks Academy includes 13 Regional Training Groups (RTGs) to better connect athletes and coaches at the local level through a series of tracking days, clinics, 365 virtual skill and fitness programming, and identification opportunities to play into the Junior Jacks Academy squads or the Independents Senior Development squads.
“The Regional Training Groups will work to help drive the growth of rugby at every level across New England,” commented Free Jacks Operations Officer, Oliver Engelhart. “In the coming months we will host training clinics, tracking days and learn to play opportunities in all six states, localizing high performance rugby opportunities for aspiring players in the region to take advantage of and enhance the good work that is being done at the club levels.”
Free Jacks Regional Training Groups in the short-term will compete with each other through fitness testing and skill competitions. In time the RTGs will compete on the field in out-of-regular-season competitions as the volume of qualified athletes increases in each region and at each age group (U16, U18, U20, senior).
In 2021 the more advanced high school boys and girls players will play their way into the Junior Jacks Red (north) or Blue (south) team at the U16 and U18 age groups once safe to do so. The best of this group at the U18 level (high school varsity) will compete against other MLR academy level teams through a touring and hosting model to be played in the high school club off-season.
“I couldn’t be more excited for all of the opportunities the Free Jacks are bringing to young players, boys and girls alike,” stated Free Jacks Academy coach, Northeast D1 Commissioner, President of CRAA Women, and Brandeis University Women’s & St. Mary’s High School Girls Head Coach, Olivia Benzan-Daniel. “Upskill training, connecting with college coaches, and selection to regional competition squads are the incredible resources I would have jumped on as a young athlete. With a dedicated effort to providing the same opportunities for girls as boys, I’m thrilled to be a part of the coaching team and can’t wait to see what’s next!”
The Independents, the official Free Jacks senior development squads for men and women ages 20+, will train and scrimmage in the 2021 winter months when it is safe to do so prior to the start of the senior club spring competitions. Following the spring club competition the best players of the men’s sides will compete against other Major League Rugby (MLR) senior development teams in the late spring and early summer in a proposed 4-match competition. The women’s Independents schedule will be subject to the WPL and US Eagles 2021 schedules.
“It’s exciting to see the Free Jacks formalize the development pathways across New England, to the national level, as a verified NDP with USA Rugby, and locally through the newly formed Regional Training Groups,” commented New England Rugby Football Union, Brad Dufresne. “With the Free Jacks working closely with the local governing bodies, teams and coaches, it’s an exciting time for the growth of rugby in New England.”
At the center of the Academy’s growth will continue to be extensive online and in-person coach development opportunities, including current initiatives such as the Free Jacks Foundations of Coaching Certification powered by Revolution Rugby. Coaches across the region will be invited to work with Academy and Free Jacks coaches at programs, sessions, and clinics in their region.
“It’s an incredibly valuable experience to have as a coach to watch others, jump in and get instant feedback,” added four time Massachusetts state champions BC High head coach Paul Carty, who joined the coaching group at the first Junior Jacks Tracking Day in July of this year. “Where I am as a coach, where I hope to be as a coach, my skill set only improves with the people I’m working with and learning from. For our players, seeing their coach in that environment as well is hugely empowering and I’m looking forward to the sessions to come.”
Each Free Jacks Regional Training Group is aiming to create additional non-contact and limited-contact rugby youth competitions through the Free Jacks Academy Learn-to-Play initiative. This work is underway with current beta programs in the works at a handful of Boys & Girls Clubs and through a limited number of town recreation departments.
More details on each program within the Free Jacks Academy will be released in the coming days.
Join the Free Jacks Academy today by indicating your interest using this form.
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