- The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation invested $5.4 million to build the first BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park in Memphis. The space celebrated its grand opening in August 2019.
- Today, the Memphis Inner City Rugby League is using the multipurpose field at the park for team practices.
When Freedom Preparatory Academy moved to a new campus in the fall of 2019, the school’s athletic facilities were limited, leaving its popular rugby program without a place to practice.
Fortunately, the BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park opened that year just as kids returned to school.
“The timing of the opening couldn’t have been better,” says Shane Young, cofounder and executive director of Memphis Inner City Rugby, which partners with Freedom Prep and other schools to offer the sport. “The park is dynamic and safe. It has been awesome for us.”
The park is also convenient, located less than a mile from Freedom Prep. Before COVID-19 arrived in the area, 30 kids from the school practiced at the park 4-5 days per week. According to Shane, rugby is a great sport for underserved youth.
“Rugby is inexpensive to play and to organize,” he explains. “All you need is a ball and a patch of grass. We partner with schools like Freedom Prep that do not have the resources to produce traditional after-school sports like football. We bring rugby as a zero-cost opportunity to both schools and kids, breaking down barriers to access so every kid gets a chance to play. ”
Since its founding in 2012, the league has grown to 250 girls and boys on 11 teams. The Freedom Prep girls team has been state champion four times. Many have gone on to compete at the collegiate level. And, players have been awarded college scholarships, including one from the class of 2019 who is attending Dartmouth University this fall.
More than sports
Although the league has been successful at developing rugby players, it is just part of a bigger vision for underserved youth.
“Like other sports, rugby has physical benefits, and it also helps develop teamwork and leadership,” Shane says. “However, for us, it’s just a platform to help prepare them for success in life.”
Through its alumni network and supporters, the league provides academic support, leadership development and career counseling services.
“Our alumni network is key to our being able to grow and develop these kids,” Shane explains. “While we have only two full-time employees, we have 30 coaches, and 20 of those are alumni of our program. They allow us to deliver 250 hours of programming to each participating student.”
“Rugby opens the door to a deeper way for us to serve these kids,” Shane says. “We’re grateful to BlueCross for creating this place where we can begin that engagement.”
Chelsea Johnson, director of the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation, says, “We’re happy that Memphis Inner City Rugby has been able to find a home at the BlueCross Healthy Place. Their story is a great example of the value that these open, accessible spaces bring to their communities.”
To learn more about the BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park, read our previous feature. The BlueCross Foundation has six BlueCross Healthy Places in various stages of completion across the state.