By Wesley Whitten
I was flattered to be asked by the principal of St Francis' Special School, Marian White, to introduce tag rugby to the school in September 2012.
The first problem to become apparent was that the girls were experiencing great difficulty in passing properly, while the boys adapted quite well to passing backwards or sideways. Due to the inordinate number of turnovers caused by the girls' forward passing and the disruption that this caused to the games, it was decided to allow the girls to give forward passes.
While initially this caused great confusion, the girls soon got to grips with the advantages that this new dimension gave to the game and in fact began to work the forward passing to their advantage.
The boys, too, made good use of the fact that their female team-mates could forward pass to them. After five or six weeks of this relaxation, by which time the girls had become more adept at the proper passing, we reintroduced the proper passing.
St Francis' school is blessed with a small, but excellent, astroturf pitch and it is used in almost any weather.
The skill levels of the pupils who play tag can vary, depending on their disability, from poor to very athletic.
One of the characteristics that the pupils possess is how protective they can be towards some of their less athletic team-mates.
If one of these don't appear to be getting involved in a game, one quiet word from staff member Paul Kelly to let that player score and immediately the pupil is given the ball.
To me, as a relative outsider, I have noticed that the tag rugby has wrought significant changes in the boys and girls. Some who originally wouldn't easily share with their peers are playing and sharing with each other more readily. The rules and disciplines of the game have helped the children's communication skills. They appear to be concentrating more and learning new skills.
Finally, it must be mentioned that a new tradition seems to be developing in St Francis'. No game appears to be able to start now unless Stephen performs his interpretation of the Haka!