Rugby takes 4 teens overseas

Arnold Chavis (left) passes the rugby ball to fellow player Jorge Cabrera. Both teens will travel to Durham, South Africa. - Photos courtesy of Annie Collier

Four Bronx teens will celebrate Fourth of July on an airplane as they leave to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Recent Sports Professions High School graduates Rob Cabrera, Jorge Cabrera, Matt Cortes and Arnold Chavis are anxiously awaiting their visit to Durban, South Africa where they’ll attend the Natal Sharks International Rugby Program.

Selected from the New York Rugby Club’s U-19 program, the young men’s commitment to consistently improve their athletic skill level, complimented by their maturity and leadership abilities, earned them their overseas tickets.

 “This trip is a life-changing experience for me,” Rob said. “Not only am I going to see another part of the world, but I am also going to play some high quality rugby and try to get the club and myself some exposure.”

The guys will join other teens from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and Japan for an extensive training experience at the three-week summer clinic.

“Going to South Africa is just awesome,” Chavis exclaimed. “I hope I come back with talent to bring the club up to Super League, though I know it will take more than me.”

Founded in 2006 by teacher Lisa Lake, the youth rugby program was designed to use the strength of the sport to spearhead the positive practices of inner-city teens.

“We do our best to instill a sense of team cooperation and group ownership,” the team’s co-coach Annie Collier said. “But the kids themselves are to be congratulated. They’re the ones who are truly dedicated to making their lives better. And they’re having fun at the same time.”

Collier said she’s truly inspired by two of the young men who’ve already made monumental personal strides. One of them was orphaned after both his parents died and the other survived the loss of two siblings to murder.

The team agreed that it’s their involvement with the New York Rugby program that keeps them headed on the road to success.

“Rugby, to me, is a gateway to a better life,” Chavis said. “Before rugby I always ended up in trouble. In school before I started playing, you could always find me in the principal’s office because of a little mischief, usually having someone else to do my dirty work so I wouldn’t get in trouble.”

Collier reiterated that teens crave a sense of belonging and without the sport, all they’d have is the streets.

“One of our players summed it up perfectly when he stated, ‘If I didn’t have rugby I’d definitely be in a gang.’ Several other kids said the exact same thing. It’s pretty amazing,” she commented.

Having played for two and a half years Jorge said he’s seen the first hand effects of how the game changed his life.

“I’ve not only changed for the better, I’ve become a leader,” he said. “Plus, I get this awesome beach body for the summer.”

Another positive note, Collier said, is the academic assistance the program provides its players.

“The coaches arrange for tutors for players in need of extra help,” she explained. “That extra effort has gone a long way toward advancing their academic careers.”

Unfortunately without funding, even the best intentions are cut short. The club is seeking donations to help underwrite the trip’s cost.  To donate, visit

“Rugby has formed, or should I say sculpted a great head on my shoulders,” Jorge said. “Because of rugby I look at life differently. I make better decisions and I go places I’ve never been.”

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