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‘Joy and laughter’: the Leicester rugby team for children with Down’s syndrome
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‘Joy and laughter’: the Leicester rugby team for children with Down’s syndrome

A rugby team set up for young people with Down’s syndrome has been described as a “lifeline” by parents who say there is a chronic lack of opportunities for their children.

Leicester Tigers launched the team in October last year and now have more than 40 families signed up to their fortnightly training sessions.

Kelly Towl, whose eight-year-old, Lucie-Ann, attends the sessions said the team had had a positive impact on her daughter.

“There aren’t many sports aimed solely at children with Down’s syndrome, so for that to actually happen is positive,” she said. “Your children are not judged, we’re not judged … we’re all in the same boat.”

Towl, a mother of three whose family are fans of Leicester Tigers and regularly attend matches, said she was very excited by the opportunity for her daughter to participate in the sport.

“I think children with Down’s syndrome, they’re stereotyped … so this really is a lifeline, and other sports and other teams should really take note,” she said. “You’ve only got to see the smile on their faces on a Sunday morning and the hug they give each other, it’s just tear-jerking.”

Louis in action: he has the ball in his arms and is running towards the camera as other players and coaches look on from behind. He looks intent and determined as he runs.View image in fullscreen

Judy Lindsay-Timmins, parent to Louis, 17, described the team as a “safe, wonderful environment for our young people” that had developed her son’s communication, concentration and confidence.

“Louis is very active, loves being outside and being given the opportunity to join sports the same as anyone else,” she said. “He feels as if he’s a member of a team. A family group … because instead of being on the sidelines, he’s embraced, he’s part of it.”

The parents described the team as indispensable, particularly due to the chronic lack of community groups for children and families with Down’s syndrome.

When asked if there were similar groups available in her local area, Lindsay-Timmons said: “No, definitely not. We live in Lincolnshire, so we travel nearly an hour, so over 30 miles to come, because there is nothing in our local area.”

Megan Kirby, the coach, leans down with her face alongside that of Noah, eight, as 22-year-old Harvey stands by; all three wear the green team T-shirt, are holding rugby balls, and are smiling widelyView image in fullscreen

The coach, Megan Kirby, 26, said the lack of opportunities for young people with Down’s syndrome had inspired her to set up the team with the Leicester Tigers Foundation charity.

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“I moved down to the Midlands last year in about June, and when I moved into my new role I saw that not much was going on in the whole of the East Midlands just for people with Down’s syndrome. So the idea came around of setting up a team and Leicester Tigers were really on board with it … it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Kirby, an education officer at Leicester Tigers Foundation, said she had seen “massive changes” in the children, with many proudly describing themselves as “Leicester Tigers players” and some older players coaching younger participants.

“It’s something that I can actually get emotional speaking about,” she said. “Some of the families, they’ve never met any other children with Down’s syndrome before, so they just feel like they’re accepted … it’s just happiness and joy when we are there.”

The players pose with professional Leicester Tigers player Nic Dolly, with their coach, Megan Kirby, on the right: the group of boys and girls spans a variety of ages and heights, and they look happy; some are holding rugby balls in the air above their headsView image in fullscreen

Kirby said she would encourage other sports teams across the country to introduce similar schemes after the success of their group.

“Come to one of our sessions, see how much joy and laughter it’s going to bring to your own life and their lives and go for it. There’s not one negative in it at all, it’s just all positive,” she said.

Source: theguardian.com