The Knights are proud to be one of the founding clubs of the Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League and last week, after a few months away, our Disability Rugby League team returned to training.
Here, York City Knights Foundation’s Delivery Manager Adam Prentis answers some questions on the return of the game and how good it was to see our participants back at training.
Briefly explain what the Disability Rugby League team is?
The York City Knights Disability Rugby League club offers an adaption of the traditional 13 a-side game to allow those with disabilities to enjoy the game of Rugby League. Here in York, we run a disability club that offers players with physical or learning disabilities the chance not only to train but also to represent the Knights by playing in festivals against other well-known clubs in the Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League.
Our players with physical disabilities act as enablers to help other teammates with learning difficulties enjoy the game. LDRL is non-competitive, no one is keeping track of the score and instead the game is driven more towards inclusion and trying your best.
Our squad has a wide range of ages, abilities and backgrounds and welcomes new players with either physical or learning difficulties.
Fixtures between clubs are organised on a festival basis with several of these teams coming together to provide a series of events spread across the season.
How long have the team been together?
The team has been together for just over two years. The Knights are one of twelve founder clubs and played against the likes of Castleford Tigers, Huddersfield Giants, Hull KR, Leeds Rhinos to name a few back in 2019. We have new players joining us all the time and we reach out to new players and encourage them to come down and give our sessions a try.
The new opportunity came about by Super League (Europe) and the Rugby Football League (RFL) partnering with the national social care charity Community Integrated Care (CIC) to form a ground-breaking inclusive sports programme for people with learning disabilities and autism.
How have you seen the team and game develop in the last few years?
Over the years we have had various disability rugby league sessions but with the launch of the Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League, things have been brought to a new level with loads of interest.
As soon as we heard about the launch of LDRL, we felt it was something for us and something we would like to be a part of. Our reputation has grown amongst community groups as has our school’s delivery with special schools and mainstream schools.
Although we don’t have a team in the Physical Disability Super League (PDRL) at present, it is something that is under review and in time perhaps may be an area of growth that we look to embrace.
During lockdown, how were you keeping the DRL players together and active?
The first lockdown brought a halt to all our disability work. As time went on, we wanted to adapt what we did and still connect with our players, arguably when they needed us most. As a team of deliverers, we turned to online sessions and ran them weekly. The great work of volunteer coaches Liam Jackson, Ed Bates and Fran Hearld was outstanding and was not only appreciated by the club but by our participants as well.
This was incorporated with the launch of the RLWC 2021 skills journal. We recorded weekly challenges and asked participants to record themselves giving each task ago if they felt comfortable in doing so, through a private Facebook group.
We also ran our Mencap Round the World Challenge (RTWC) which is a virtual challenge to log hours of exercises and turn them into a journey across the world. I thought this was a great way of motivating certain individuals to keep practicing and track their journey over a period of time.
You have recently restarted the DRL program. What was the first session like?
The first face-to-face session back following lockdown was probably one of the biggest highlights for me personally and marked a significant milestone. It was a long time in waiting and it needed a large degree of planning with the help and advice from the RFL that it was the right time to bring sessions back.
I’m really glad we did and with new players joining all the time the squad is looking stronger than ever. The virtual sessions were great but there’s no real substitute for face-to-face sessions!
Brendan O’Hagan was there recently. What was the players’ reaction to seeing a first-team player there and how good is it to see people like him getting involved with wider club activities?
The club as whole has been really supportive of what we are trying to achieve. We’ve had players helping with video messages of encouragement throughout lockdown and then to have Brendan volunteer to come down and join in for the full session was a great gesture.
Quite a lot of the players recognised him and are looking forward to cheering him when he’s playing for the first team.
What have the highlights been for the DRL team in the last few years? Anfield etc. Where else have the team played?
We launched our Disability Rugby League club back in 2019 and within our first year, the team played in several festivals including the opportunity to play in front of Sky TV cameras, thousands of fans, and a host of high-profile sporting arenas including Super League’s Dacia Magic Weekend at Anfield, the home of Liverpool Football Club.
Those venues all provided something special, with lots of fond memories and friendships made.
The programme helps promote physical activity which has many benefits but what was equally rewarding for me was seeing several individuals develop confidence and social skills and help them get out in the community whether it a bigger social circle, start volunteering or find employment.
What are the plans for this year?
The plan for this year is to take gradual steps back to full competition in a series of festivals planned. The early stages are to take part in local competition with events penciled in for later in the year. We are looking at hosting our first ever LDRL festival here in York later in the year – so watch this space!
The Knights’ Disability Rugby League team trains on Wednesday evenings between 6:30pm and 7:30pm at the York St John Sports Park, YO31 8TA. Anybody with physical or learning disabilities can attend for free. To book, or for more information, please contact email@example.com.