Ballyclare Secondary School has picked up an Ulster Carpets Youth award for the Best High School.
On collecting the award, Ballyclare Secondary School’s rugby coach, Mr Andrew Cowden said, “My colleague and fellow coach, Mr Stephen McGuigan and I are delighted. It’s not only a great achievement for the school, but for all the rugby players right up from our U12s to U18s, plus the wider rugby community in the town too. This is the second time the school has won the Ulster Carpets Award for Best High School in three years, which is fantastic.
“We have an excellent relationship with Ulster Rugby and Matthew Coulter, our Club Community Rugby Officer and past pupil. He would come into the school to work with us during term time. Our Regional Rugby Development Officer, Neil Alcorn would also come and do sessions with our teams on a fortnightly basis. He’s got great knowledge and is a fantastic help to the school; he just loves coaching grassroots rugby which is so valuable to us.
“Winning the award is very enjoyable but our main focus at the school is providing opportunities to play and develop. That starts with our U12s; we were part of an Ulster Rugby pilot programme with blitzes being scored differently to play a more positive and skilful brand of rugby. The aim of the programme is to get the players to pass, offload and counter-ruck more, rather than passing to the bigger players to run through teams.
“We participated in a blitz at Carrickfergus Rugby club which brought three sections of youth rugby together – grammar schools, high schools and rugby clubs. I’m a firm believer that this needs to happen more across the province.
“As a school, we try to embed the values of rugby, friendship, respect, working with others, while giving them experiences they’ll always cherish from their school years. They will always remember playing in an U14 or U16 final at Kingspan Stadium. Introducing the players to Ballyclare rugby club is very important to us as well; keeping that link with the club when they leave school.
“Ballyclare Secondary School has grown to five teams and the numbers participating for a high school are very high. It’s a major part of our Key Stage 3 programme and it’s a hugely successful extra-curricular activity at the school.
“We have also established several local business links during this very successful season with Jenkins Butchers, Misty Burn, ABL Group, Dennison JCB and Ernest Hall Menswear to purchase a senior and junior rugby kit for the school.
“In recent years, we’ve won the Medallion trophy and the 3rd XV plate. The school has also been in the U16 trophy final five times in the last six years, winning the competition in 2018.
“This season, Ballyclare Secondary School were declared joint winners of the U14 High Schools trophy and were U18 and U16 trophy finalists as well. Getting to three age-group finals was a wonderful achievement for the school.
“The school has also produced a number of representative players. One of our past pupils, Aaron Hall was in the Ulster Academy and represented Ulster at senior level. Paul McGookin and Jack Milton have played for Ulster As and Irish U20s, while Matthew Coulter was part of the Ulster Junior squad.
“We’re developing some great players and we hope that continues. We’re starting to see the benefits and the positive impact it’s had on our pupils. School open nights always see a lot of interest in the rugby.
“I have a real passion for high schools’ rugby. It’s so important because the majority of youth players at clubs will come from high schools. Having been the Secretary of the Schools’ Committee, I’ve seen significant growth in high schools’ participation in the last few years. It’s vital for the growth of club youth rugby to have a strong high schools’ system. Once the players leave school, they will often stay with the rugby club and play vital roles there, and I’m delighted that Ballyclare Secondary School plays its part in that.”
As their prize, Ballyclare Secondary School will receive a bag of Ulster Carpets rugby balls as well as 30 tickets to an Ulster Rugby game at Kingspan Stadium.